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BRAC expected to bring population growth of 23,000 over 20 years

Fort Sill_In September Lawton-Fort Sill is slated to see the beginning of a population boom from Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).  10,000 people were originally expected to relocate as soldiers were reassigned to Fort Sill, and that prediction has grown to 23,000 over the course of 20 years.  The number includes support staff to fill new retail stores, new teachers, additional emergency responders, and employees hired to work at the BAE Systems plant in Elgin.

On Wednesday, the BRAC Coordination Committee meeting held a meeting with Lawton officials, military personnel, and the project manager to unveil the plan for community expansion.  The growth plan illustrates city expansions for Elgin and Cache as well - to create a larger, united community.  Although the growth plan primarily benefits the military, civilians can be expected to benefit from more shopping, bigger neighborhoods, and improved roads.

With the influx of people will come additional cash to benefit the cities' economy.  "There's going to be upwards of $4 billion of new monies flowing through this community," said Project Manager Doug Tennant.  With the population growth comes the need for infrastructure improvements - new roads to provide faster and wider thoroughfares across town.  The plan is to widen Trail Road in eastern Comanche County to provide another way for Elgin residents to get into Lawton.  Plans also include improvements to be made to Highway 36 south of Lawton so that big trucks have an easier way to access the industrial parks without damaging city roads.

Growth Management Coordinator Kevin Jackson says the cities are going to experience growing pains.  "Growing pains makes everything exciting and challenging. It's going to make us a better community in the long run."  Along with highway and road improvements will come water and sewage improvements.  They say that the goal is to connect Lawton's fringe neighborhoods and combine them all into one network.

The committee also unveiled plans to improve quality of life, such as adding parks.  "I can sit here for 10 minutes and list all the challenges we have.  The projects a mile long," said Johnson.  "But let's look at the glass as half full.  What an incredible opportunity to make changes that have been on our wish list for years, collecting dust - now we have an opportunity."  Jackson says the committee is ready for anything.  "This 10,000 (people) is nothing," he said.  "We're ready for whatever the pentagon wants to throw at us.  We're improving the quality of life throughout Lawton and other areas.  It is a fantastic time to be in Lawton, Oklahoma."

The next move for the committee is to present economic concerns to state politicians.  The committee predicts growth from BRAC will generate $80 million in revenue for Oklahoma, and with a $200 million price tag, Lawton wants some tax revenue to go toward paying for the growth.  Johnson says the city is playing it safe while preparing for the population boom, and instead of purchasing bonds to build prior to soldiers and their families arriving, they are looking for solid financial partners to invest in the long list of projects.  They say that when they get an exact population number they will investigate funding from other sources.

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