Mention a National Guard armory in any government setting, and even the grown-ups around the table get all googly-eyed. The Palm Coast City Council did this morning when Lt. Col. Mark Widener presented the freshest plans for relocating a 21-man air-defense artillery battalion from an old location on Basin Street in Daytona Beach, where it’s been for 21 years, to a location on county land east of Belle Terre Boulevard, just south of State Road 100.
The plan is still more talk than action: Congress hasn’t appropriated the $20.8 million for it, and as Lt. Col. Mark Widener described it, construction money may not be secured until 2013 (if then), with actual construction lasting 12 to 18 months. So the actual building wouldn’t be occupied until 2014 or 2015. When the battalion does move in, it won’t be the sort with big tanks and trucks all over the place, or even that many soldiers. The largest vehicle on site might be a five-ton truck, and the permanent staff will consist of no more than 21 full-time soldiers, who’ll be paid a collective $1.8 million a year–the equivalent of a healthy small business with no risk of ever going under. The National Guard would lease the property for 40 years, with an option to add another 10.
And the facility will be home to weekend soldiers coming in for drills. The battalion is made up of 247 such soldiers from various parts around the state. They’re not likely to move to Flagler County by any means, Widener said, but they still will generate economic activity of their own on that one weekend a month when they are here.
Holsey Moorman, a member of the city council and a retired general, said even the 21 soldiers will provide useful economic activity. “These are the soldiers that are there daily,” Moorman said. “They’re on call 24/7, they show up every morning and do their job. They’ll be coming in, bringing families, hopefully they’ll be buying homes and making resident in the community. That’s the economic impact. Now, when they do that, then they’re going to be spending. You saw that $1.8 million salary plus $72,000 from the state. That’s money that they’re going to be bringing to this area to spend, to help run the place. They’ll be buying supplies, food supplies, administrative supplies, maintenance, those kinds of things. That’s money will be spent in Flagler County.”
Jim Landon, the city manager, said the presence of the National Guard has other fringe benefits, from its helpful proximity in times of emergencies to its effects on community events. “Lots of times,” he said, “when you have a special event you’ll see the Guard being involved, fund-raisers, Christmas parades. It’s a tremendous boost and excitement. Kids love to come and see the soldiers and participate in some of the things they bring to events.”
The Reserve Center (rather than an armory) will be located south of the Flagler County Airport, which will be of particular advantage. “It can handle both our heavy-lift helicopters and fixed-wings that can bring supplies in and we can operate out of that,” Widener said. “But as far as actually stationing any type of military aircraft, no, that’s not the mission of that type of unit, so therefore we’d just be operating as a home-base for those 247 soldiers that would be stationed there.”
Even in state emergencies, the airport authority will maintain control of the airport and the air space above it. The National Guard does not override that, but works within civilian parameters–unless the governor orders the override, which he may.
Palm Coast has plans to have a city park nearby. Mayor John Netts jokingly asked Widener: Netts: “With our terrorist neighbors, if we put in a neighborhood park, are they infringing on your security?”
“Negative sir,” Widener replied, taking the question more seriously than the laughter around him would suggest. The building, he said, would be placed in the center of the 55-acre property precisely as a security matter. “I don’t think that in Flagler County that we have a threat of car bombs, but that’s the whole purpose of setting it off, so the impact of having the soldiers in this type of facility would not be threatened by this type of threat.”