FORT POLK, LA — This is the second in a series of articles to be published by Fort Polk’s Public Affairs Office to keep the community informed about the Land Purchase Program at Fort Polk. The first article, published in the May 2, 2014 Fort Polk Guardian, and released by the PAO on May 5, 2014, provided answers to some of the community’s frequently asked questions. This article highlights some of relocation services provided by the federal government.
The U.S. Army’s Land Purchase Program continues at Fort Polk. The program is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District. The land the Army is attempting to purchase includes 47,500 acres south and southeast of Peason Ridge that will increase the unrestricted maneuver training area and live fire capabilities to support Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center.
To date, the Corps of Engineers has acquired about 32,500 acres of land. Currently, owners are being contacted to obtain rights-of-entry and the process to obtain appraisals and title work is underway. Offers to landowners are expected to begin in August.
When the Land Purchase Program began, Fort Polk’s training area had 198,000 acres; 100,000 of which belong to the Army. The other 98,000 acres belong to the U.S. Forest Service. Forest Service land, which Fort Polk is allowed to use, is divided into two areas: Intensive use and the limited use area.
The limited use area is Forest Service land that is also open to the public for recreational purposes. The intensive use area is land that Fort Polk uses to support maneuver of large unit formations and live fire operations. Given the land resources available to support the JRTC mission, the Department of the Army conducted a land use requirement study in 2005 followed with a detailed analysis published in 2007.
Those studies determined Fort Polk had a shortfall of training land. That shortfall, said Fort Polk officials, not only impacts the training of rotational brigade combat teams, but may also affect Fort Polk’s tenant units.
In the land expansion area, 65 landowners are being impacted. Those land owners were invited to meet with the Corps of Engineers in April to discuss the land acquisition process. Additionally, they have been provided copies of documents that explain their rights and benefits, such as relocation assistance, payment of closing costs, and more, under the program.
Those rights and benefits were mandated by Congress through the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, amended in 1987 (known as the Uniform Act.) The law was enacted to provide uniform and equitable treatment for persons whose property is acquired for public use and displaced owners as a result of the acquisition of private property.
During the acquisition process, each property owner is assigned a relocation counselor, whose sole purpose is to assist the landowner with relocation benefits. Counselors identify needs, explain benefits and services, provide information on availability of housing and assist with applications.
Landowners typically receive a written notice explaining their eligibility for relocation assistance. Eligibility for assistance begins on the date of "just compensation" to purchase the property. In addition to help in obtaining a comparable replacement home, other assistance, as necessary, is provided to minimize the impact of moving including referral to appropriate public and private agencies that provide services concerning housing financing, employment, health, welfare or legal assistance. The range of services depends on the needs of the person being displaced.
Displaced landowners are entitled to a relocation payment to cover the actual reasonable cost of the move. The agency will explain all eligible moving costs, as well as those which are not eligible. The agency can even help landowners select a reliable and reputable mover. Each individual move is unique and financial assistance will be evaluated case by case between the owner and relocation counselor.
Brochures explaining these benefits have been provided to landowners. They are also posted under the “Land Purchase Program” link at the JRTC and Fort Polk web site at www.polk-army.mil.
In a joint statement, Fort Polk’s command group said the Soldiers and Families that have the honor and privilege to serve in America’s Army at Fort Polk remain grateful for the patriotism and caring of the people of Vernon Parish. “Without your steadfast commitment and outpouring of support, we, the Soldiers of Fort Polk, could not be successful in our mission to train for war and deploy when the nation calls,” officials said.