Fort Bragg, located near the southern U.S. city of Fayetteville, North Carolina, is among the largest military installations in the world. It has airfields and firing ranges and sites for live-fire maneuvers. There are also office buildings, shopping malls, schools and churches for the 45,000 men and women stationed here.
Those aren't Fort Bragg's only "residents." The large forested areas on the 65,000-hectare installation are home to rare and endangered species of plants and animals. At issue is how to protect these species and the natural environment, without compromising Fort Bragg's mission to train American soldiers.
As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, Fort Bragg is doing the job with everything from green buildings to permeable parking lots.
Fort Bragg is a lot like a big city with big city problems. A study of the base in 2001 revealed just how much alike.
Christine Hull's job is to plan for a more sustainable Fort Bragg. She helps Fort Bragg's administrators manage the use of energy and natural resources, which, left unchecked, could affect the ability to train soldiers.
"We spend $30 million a year in energy," she estimates. "We generated 200,000 tons in solid waste, 8.5 millions of gallons of water a day."
Her focus is on details.
"How much water we consume and the quality of the water that we consume, what we discharge, the air quality and what types of material we use and how we dispose of them," she adds. [We look at] how much energy we use, and how we train and educate the people on the installation and who are our neighbors in the surrounding communities to the way we do things."
Paul Wirt heads the Environmental Compliance Branch on Fort Bragg. "When it comes to water and air issues, they don't stop or start at our installation boundary," he says.
He adds that private landowners, businesspeople and federal and state officials work with the military on common problems, but because of the structure of the military, Fort Bragg can implement change more rapidly than its neighbors. Policy is set by the garrison commander.
"And, a perfect example of that is when we had drought conditions two years ago, we had a severe water shortage throughout the region," he says. "While other municipalities were struggling with that, our garrison commander was able to set down policies on water conservation that allowed us to conserve 30 percent of what our water usage was. No other local could claim that type of success because of just the structure of the military. And we have been able to keep those policies since then to continue to conserve that amount of water."
About a year ago (May 2003), Fort Bragg in partnership with its neighbors outside the gates, completed the Fort Bragg Integrated Strategic Sustainability Plan to target waste and consumption. It mandates sound environmental practices, from energy efficient transport to the design and demolition of buildings.
Three hundred trucks a day dump construction debris in the Fort Bragg landfill. Metal is separated and recycled. Concrete is ground up and used on the roads and as firebreaks in forests. Christine Hull says this conserves space and saves money.
"It actually costs us about $5 a ton to do it this way as opposed to $30 a ton to buy brand new gravel," she said. "And every time we build a building, every square foot that we build, we have to demolish a square foot of one of our older buildings. The value of saving this piece of property and making the maximum use of it is that we are not digging any more landfills. And if we have to dig another landfill that is another 70 or 80 acres of training land that we are converting from what soldiers need to train on to a different type of use."
And how is this different from what happened five or 10 years ago?
"This all was buried. Every bit of it was buried five to 10 years ago," she said. "There was no concrete grinding like this. There was no diversion [of materials]. We were not doing a very good job of monitoring our cut and fill at construction sites. And, we found that one of the largest contributors to our solid waste stream was actually dirt!"
And when asked if there still is a necessity for a landfill, she replied, "Today there is. We are moving toward zero waste. And, that is another reason for the regional partnership because we realize that as we go toward zero waste or begin to fill this landfill up we have the ability to negatively impact our neighbors, because [the waste] has got to go somewhere. So the best thing that we can do is to change the way we manage things, and change our practices."
All new buildings, like this recently opened headquarters for the Golden Knights, the army parachute demonstration team, adhere to "green" environmental standards.
Christine Hull: All of the facilities inside here, we were very conscious with the types of materials the contractor built it with and that they are furnished it with that they are recycled content and low VOCs, low volatile organic [materials]. You don't walk in and smell new paint or mastic sticking tile to the floor. It has none of that odor.
Skirble: So, how is this an example of the future of Fort Bragg?
Hull: This the first of the buildings that we will build to 'Spirit' standard. It will be not only a performance building, not only in the way the building operates, but also in terms of the work environment it creates. If you look along the outside you can see that every office space has access to windows and they are opening and closing windows. So you can get cross ventilation and daylight. It is a very, very pleasant working environment in addition to being an outstanding facility. And, it was done on budget on time.
Even the parking lot has a new design with sustainable principles in mind. It has a permeable surface to soak up runoff, as does a second lot under construction up the street.
Christine Hull: It will incorporate rain gardens and bio-swells, everything you can possibly imagine right there by the environmental classroom, and just on the other side of that we are building a conventional parking lot. And part of the reasoning to do that was not just to see the comparison, but also to look at those budget items to say how much it cost and to look at lifecycle costs.
Skirble: A sustainable parking lot!
Hull: Yes, I tell our landscapers it will have functioning landscape. Everything that has been picked out to be planted there has a job to do in terms of managing storm water, being drought tolerant and actually providing some service.
Base officials hope that service, along with all the other sustainable practices, will assure that Fort Bragg can, in Christine Hull's words, "live within its means." And that, she says, will also ensure that Fort Bragg remains one of the best soldier training grounds in the world.