Community efforts to promote neighboring military installations often involve the donation or purchase of property to protect the base from encroachment or provide land for expansion. Last week, the Air Force transferred 53 acres of excess land at Ellsworth Air Force Base at no cost to a state authority, but the transaction still should pay dividends for the installation.
The South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority plans to hand over a 20-acre parcel to the local school district to construct an elementary school. The school predominantly will serve military children, said Mark Merchen, the authority’s executive director.
The city of Box Elder will develop the remaining 33 acres into a city center just across the street from the base. The development will provide space for retail offerings and other services, helping to make the community more attractive for residents as well as Air Force personnel, Merchen said. A majority of the airmen at Ellsworth, located near Rapid City in western South Dakota, live outside the base, he noted.
The site previously contained housing but hadn’t been used in several years. Because of the clear benefits the community’s plans would provide the base, Air Force officials supported the transfer. Ultimately, Congress authorized the shift in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill.
The initiative is only one component of an ongoing partnership between the state and Ellsworth, Merchen explained. The Ellsworth Development Authority was established less than two years ago by the state legislature to work with local governments and other stakeholders to protect and promote the missions at Ellsworth. The need for the new organization grew out of a master planning process the community launched focusing on compatible civilian development.
The state authority is leading another effort which is projected to save the Air Force and the community a total of $8.8 million. The authority is financing construction of a wastewater treatment plant with sufficient capacity to serve the base and Box Elder, both of which need new treatment plants. The project means the Air Force doesn’t need to rely on military construction funding, and at the same time it should save the government on an operating basis, he said.