On March 12, 2015 Pima County administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote a memo outlining his request to access the state of Arizona’s military Installation Fund to purchase several parcels of land within the Davis Monthan Air Force base boundaries for $5 million. This Tuesday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors are expected to approve the application for the funds.
On Friday, March 13, 2015, the Pima County Bond Advisory Board approved a bond package to be put in front the voters as early as November 2015. Included in that bond package are the same parcels identified in the March 12, 2015 memo.
In his Economic Development Plan, updated in 2015, Huckelberry claims that “Although the voters of Arizona approved an exchange mechanism to protect millions of dollars in military installations” the process is entirely “too cumbersome.”
The Military Installation Fund (MIF) was established by the state of Arizona to purchase land which might, under its current or future ownership be used in a manner that would be disadvantageous for the nearby military installation. Among the reasons for the use of fund for the purchase of nearby land, especially as they relate to Army and Air Force installations, is noise abatement. Ordinances, and aircraft can – and often do – disturb the tranquility of a neighborhood, and measures are taken to avoid encroachment to bases in order to avoid future complaints by potential neighbors.
Pima County and the MIF
At times, it appears that the Fund has been used by Pima County to purchase land that may theoretically, but not realistically, qualify as an encroachment threat to the Davis Monthan Air Force base. As with past County purchases with MIF funds, the rural/un-subdivided private properties and State lands are generously valued at approximately $21,500 per acre. Last year, the County used Military Installation Funds to purchase land in the name of Davis Monthan in a planned business park, near the flight path, for a generous value of approximately $23,000 per acre.
The Fund, depleted by legitimate and questionable purchases over the years, now holds a meager $2.5 million, with $500,000 allocated for cities, and counties, and the remainder set aside for private property owners. In Fiscal Year 2016 the fund shows a zero balance with no future funding currently planned.
According to numerous sources, since the time the Arizona Daily independent first questioned claims made in the Economic Development Plan, Huckelberry has been reaching out to his dear friend and neighbor Joseph Cuffari, a remnant from the Brewer administration, who is associated with the Fund. As a result, it is highly unlikely that Huckelberry is unaware of the lack of funds in the MIF, but embarrassing the State by claiming that they cannot step up to save DM, could be priceless for Huckelberry and his fellow political animals on the Board of Supervisors.
Pima County and DM
The FY2016 USAF force maps show no new missions arriving at DM, so efforts to protect the current mission are essential to prevent a $1.6 billion, yes – billion – hit to southern Arizona’s economy. The need to find a funding mechanism to meet DM’s needs is essential.
On February 20, 2015, the Arizona Daily independent (ADI) reached out to the Air Force in an effort to obtain the leases associated with the aforementioned properties. The USAF responded that they could only provide the most current leases and refused to turn over “any pre-decisional documents.” On that same day, the ADI asked the USAF to confirm Huckelberry’s claim that the USAF had requested that the County purchase the land in order to protect the base against potential BRACs. A Staff Sergeant, assigned to media relations, responded that they would look into the matter.
As of on March 10, 2015, just two days before Huckelberry’s memo was released, the USAF was still looking into the matter, according to the Staff Sergeant.
The land in question is inside the boundaries of AMARC, otherwise known as the boneyard. At one time, the land was in use by an active base in full swing. Small sheds and aircraft occupied the land. Currently the land sits vacant on one side of a chain link fence and on the other side sits a scattering of homeless camps and the residents’ dogs, which appear to travel in an aggressive pack. According to experts, because the land is not near a portion of the base that is in use, the homeless, which would not be tolerated near highly secured functioning facilities, are left to live in peace on the fairly inaccessible and nearly invisible land.
Situated atop and beside Kolb Road, the property is isolated and surrounded by government owned properties. As a result, its use appears to be limited and an unlikely candidate for residential or even commercial development.
According to Huckelberry: “Today, there are 99 acres of private property inside the boundary of DMAFB that are leased on an annual basis to the USAF. In addition, there are approximately 133 acres of State Trust land within the boundary of DMAFB. The annual cost of these leases to the USAF exceeds $380,000. Both of these properties should be purchased and leased at no cost to DMAFB to continue their operations.”
The leases between the private property owners and the USAF expire in 2016. Until then, the properties sit vacant surrounded by Federal, State, and City of Tucson property. If the USAF did request that the County purchase the land, it is difficult to imagine the purpose the Air Force would cite to justify re-leasing the properties especially in light of the fact that the boneyard is shrinking and will continue to do so.
Will Pima try to pull from two pots?
As one USAF expert told the ADI on background, it is not uncommon for base commanders to appease the leaders in the communities in which their assigned base is situated. While $380,000 a year in rent for useless land might seem outrageous to taxpayers, it is a pittance for an organization that has thrown millions down the F-35 hole. Still, should the County approach the USAF with a proposal to purchase more open space, something with which Huckelberry is obsessed, a commander wouldn’t think twice about backing the County’s plan for acquisition. Whatever it takes to keep the natives happy.
Huckelberry’s apparent attempt to pull money from two pots for the same useless land, will make taxpayers unhappy no matter what explanation he offers. But no worries; Huckelberry knows how to assuage the restless. After the ADI’s revelations about the lack of new missions coming to Davis-Monthan, and the Bond committee’s cuts from the bond package of much needed projects like flood control in South Tucson, as of last Friday, new South Tucson projects have been added to the bond package. Whatever it takes to keep the natives happy.
Initial attempts to identify the properties in question were thwarted by the County. Eventually the ADI was able to obtain the list of properties.
|99 ACRES||LAND OWNERS||ACRES|
|TRACT 504||Marilyn Anne McGourty||28.79|
|TRACT 505||ZMP Partnership (Robert Zimmerman)||21.15|
|TRACT 515||Kolb Road Partnership c/o Michael Farley||1.46|
|TRACT 516||Kolb Road Partnership c/o Michael Farley||8.73|
|TRACT 517||Norma Sherman Vogel||7.08|
|TRACT 518||Michael Vogel||8.89|
|TRACT 519||Vivian Teller, et al||9.87|
|TRACT 520||Richard Rosenberg||10|
|TRACT 521||Sara Cohen, Naomi Karp||2.48|
|TRACT 522||Allan Stephan Goodman||.69|