Home Cibolo $50 million will aid neighborhoods near bases

$50 million will aid neighborhoods near bases

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Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, director of military and veteran affairs for San Antonio (left) listens during a news conference as U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (right) outlines new spending initiatives to beef up infrastructure in communities around local military bases. Photo by Collette Orquiz

Multimillion-dollar funding designed to enhance infrastructure outside local military bases could eventually support “critical projects” in the Randolph Air Force Base vicinity, officials said.

Although the $50 million federal appropriation from the Defense Communities Infrastructure Program doesn’t specifically earmark the Randolph area, Converse Mayor Al Suarez said his city and other civilian neighborhoods housing armed-services personnel will benefit one way or another.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose 28th congressional district includes the air base and much of the Metrocom, helped push for the legislation, which has an impact on Joint Base San Antonio installations.

“As a small municipality located outside the gates of JBSA-Randolph AFB, the DCIP … will assist the city of Converse tremendously by providing additional funding for infrastructure projects, services and support to improve the quality of life for all military families residing within the boundaries of Converse,” the mayor said in a release.

Suarez added he’s thankful Cuellar’s “proactive” approach secured necessary funding to back military communities.

DCIP will distribute grants to state and local governments to subsidize crucial undertakings, Cuellar said in a January meeting with reporters.

“This will allow a third source of funding through the Department of Defense,” the congressman said. “The $50 million is to only open up the door, we certainly want to increase that later.”

San Antonio, or Military City USA, already has invested more than $100 million for endeavors mutually beneficial to communities bordering bases, according to retired Marine Maj. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, director of military and veteran affairs for the city.

The Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant program also has provided up to $52 million during a four-year period.

While DEAAG projects improve the defense community in San Antonio, funding from DCIP will “greatly enhance” JBSA’s off-base infrastructure, according to a release.

The Laredo-based Cuellar collaborated with Washington state’s U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, another House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense member, to pass the bill.

Cuellar said over time there’s been resistance from the Department of Defense because some Pentagon staffers believe funding should go directly to the troops and military reservations.

“They felt that anything outside should be done by the city of San Antonio or state of Texas,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Laura L. Lenderman, commander of 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA, created a wish list for civilian communities housing military, with wants ranging from installing signage and rumble strips to traffic control lights and addressing drainage concerns.

“There are still a number of details to be worked out in how the funding is to be awarded, but we look forward to working with our partners in the city of San Antonio and surrounding communities to determine the best use of funds to improve both JBSA and our local communities,” said Rob Strain, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston spokesman.

Most initial needs center on Lackland Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis.

Ayala said all JBSA installations are connected, and what affects one affects the others.

“Joint Base San Antonio includes Randolph and so any funding going (toward) Joint Base San Antonio is going to help all the bases, not just the one,” the veteran noted.

Once monies become available, officials will devise an administration process.

Ayala said 85 percent of military members live off base or off post, so a safe commute is a priority.

“If you have better movement out of a base … that really improves traffic safety. It’s better for the community at large,” he added.

It’s important to increase value to military installations and surrounding areas, he continued, so the Department of Defense won’t close them. In the past, San Antonio officials have described the military as South Texas’ billion-dollar business.

“We have a 300-year history with the military; we want them here,” Ayala said.

Cuellar said $25 million was allotted for the Defense Manufacturing Communities Support Program in the final spending bill.

Under that legislation, a city with defense-manufacturing industries can apply for funding in “equipment and facility upgrades, workforce training, recruitment and retention, advance research, supply-chain development and small-business assistance.”

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