A nearly $30 million initiative to reduce the number of people living in a designated danger zone near Robins Air Force Base is winding down.
The latest round of home demolitions in an area on the west side of the base, near the north end of the runway, began a couple of weeks ago.
Daniel Brown, business operations specialist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said this round of demolitions involves 38 properties. Not all of them have homes, however. Some are vacant and are being cleaned up. It does include a large apartment complex on the corner of Tabor and Ignico drives.
DNR has been working on making the buys in Houston County because of its experience with real estate.
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“As of right now, our mission is done in that area,” Brown said.
The Department of Defense wants Air Force bases to have fewer people living in areas near the bases that are considered at risk for aircraft crashes and excessive noise. Federal, state and local dollars were combined to buy more than 300 homes in Bibb County north of the base and in Houston County west of the base.
Several years ago local officials, concerned about a future round of base closings, made reducing housing in the zone a priority. Funding for it was included in special purpose sales tax referendums in Houston and Bibb counties.
Total encroachment funding included $9.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense, $7.5 million from the state, $6.2 million each from Bibb and Houston, and $400,000 from Peach County. A total of 305 properties and 868 acres of land have been acquired.
There are still people living in the zones that have been targeted, but those involved with the initiative say that’s OK. The Department of Defense does not require everyone to be out, but for the number of people living there to minimized. No one has been forced to sell.
The initiative first targeted the Bibb County zone, considered the highest priority area, and once agreements were reached with all of the willing buyers there, the bid turned to Houston County. That is mostly an area east of North Davis Drive, between Tabor Drive and Bargain Road.
However, it’s still possible some buys can be done in the future, said Laura Mathis, director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. The Central Georgia Joint Development Authority, which is part of the commission, made the encroachment buys in Bibb County.
Mathis said there is still some money available, and it’s possible more funding could come in the future. More property could be bought but with limited funds left, it will likely go to the highest priority areas, she said.
Dan Penny, president of the 21st Century Partnership, said he is happy with how the encroachment process has gone. The partnership advocates for the base, particularly in the event of a base closure process.
“I think the DNR and the Middle Georgia Regional Commission have done a masterful job of managing it,” he said.
There are no immediate plans for the properties that have been bought. Mathis said one possibility for the land north of the base is for some of it to become part of a state wildlife management area. The properties could have other uses and be near the base, including agriculture and business, as long as it is not residential.