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Houston, Bibb join forces to buy properties near base

Bibb and Houston counties plan to combine forces and cash to buy properties close to Robins Air Force Base.

Plans call for $100,000 from each government for each of five years to be matched against millions of dollars from state and federal coffers to buy property in the base runway’s crash and noise zones. Those areas, called encroachment areas, are seen as one of the biggest threats to the future of Middle Georgia’s largest employer.

“We’re not likely to generate outside funds from state and federal levels unless the locals are willing to put up some match money,” said Ned Sanders, chairman of the Houston County Commission. “We’re getting this process started by agreeing to get it started.”

Sanders said he had heard, but had not seen in writing, that Georgia would be contributing $1 million at first and then another $2 million later. Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart told his colleagues that the U.S. Department of Defense could chip in another $3 million to alleviate encroachment.

Hart and Sanders said funding for encroachment issues ultimately could come from other Middle Georgia communities that benefit from the base. Bibb County budgeted and ultimately cut $750,000 from the current budget year to help solve the encroachment problem.

Bibb County began looking for more partners after Warner Robins sought to share costs on an environmental study for the Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership. Houston County could not find matching money in the middle of its budget year.

Both Bibb and Houston counties are working on their proposals for the next budget year, which starts July 1.

Sanders said encroachment problems were created over decades and won’t be fixed overnight. The counties plan to buy property from willing sellers at appraised prices.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen said he would talk to City Council about joining the anti-encroachment efforts.

In Bibb County, Hart said intergovernmental agreements would have to settle things as basic as sharing tax proceeds from properties bought in one community with money from other communities.

In general, federal guidelines favor low-density industrial users and farming over residential construction in the encroachment areas.

Hart said area communities also are working together on other regional problems such as air pollution. Houston County, home of the base, is not yet considered to be in non-attainment of air pollution standards. But tighter pollution levels are looming.

Robins Air Force Base itself is a creation of regionalism. Macon paid for the Houston County land where the base got its start, according to base history.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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