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Camp Merrill at Fort Benning, Land Exchange with USFS

STATEMENT OF ISSUE: Camp Merrill, Dahlonega, Georgia, is a sub-installation of Ft Benning and is used for Ranger mountaineering training. The camp is located on 282 acres of land owned by the United States and is administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Forest Service (USFS). With the USFS being administrator of the land, the Army must continually seek approvals from USFS for new construction or any additional changes in requirements. The administrative process for approvals is very time consuming for both agencies and frequently results in delays to construction needed for training troops. Additionally the Army pays a yearly administrative fee of approximately $30K to the USFS. For the above reasons, the Army desires to have sole control and administrative jurisdiction over the subject lands. Letter dated 28 Jan 2009 from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (DASA) approved the concept request for a land interchange between USFS and DoD.

BACKGROUND: The land exchange between the agencies has been an ongoing action between the two agencies for many years. The last attempt in 2009 to do an exchange with the USFS failed as the USFS desired for the Army to fund and construct a $6M facility in addition to a land swap of 10 acres at Lake Lanier.

In Apr 2011 ACSIM took action to develop a FY13 legislative proposal to accomplish the land swap between Army and the USFS. Legislative language was proposed to allow the Secretary of the Army to transfer approximately 10 acres at Lake Lanier to the USFS and the Secretary of Agriculture would transfer 282 acres known as Camp Merrill to the Secretary of the Army. The initiative made its way through Army and DoD channels to OMB. When asked for comments from OMB, USFS presented a different proposal suggesting a transfer of 495 acres to Army and that Army transfer $10M USDA for design and construction of administrative offices on the Lake Lanier property. Army did not agree to this revision suggested by USFS and requested withdrawal of the proposal from the FY13 legislative cycle.

General Ferreriter, IMCOM and ACSIM Commander made decision that Army needs administrative control of Camp Merrill and proposed to forward language from Army to Congressional delegation requesting restart of legislative language proposal.

In Jun 2013 legislative action was drafted by Congressman Collins’ office to direct administrative control of Camp Merrill for the Army and to and to include a statement that would transfer an unnamed parcel of land of equitable value to the USFS. Once again dialogue was opened with the USFS as DASA did not want an open ended legislation, but wanted a specific property identified in the legislation.

CURRENT STATUS: Legislative language was passed 2 Dec 2014 in the NDAA. USFS will transfer 282 acres at Camp Merrill to Army and Army will transfer 10 acres at Lake Lanier to USFS. Army and USFS are working to complete an Interagency Agreement defining the actions of both agencies through the exchange process. Target date for execution of the Interagency Agreement is NLT 31 Mar. The USACE and USFS have provided cost estimates to Army for preparation of title reports, ECPs and surveys required for administrative transfers of land. Funding has not yet been provided. Legislative language mandates a transfer date NLT 30 Sep 2015.

CONGRESSIONAL INTEREST: Sen. Perdue and Isakson and Rep. Collins.

DISTRICT POC: Belinda Estabrook, Savannah District, Real Estate Division, (912) 652-5667