Fort Belvoir Blasting Begins With A Quiet Bang

Blasting for the Fort Belvoir expansion continues this week. Last week's blasts didn't prompt any noise complaints.
Blasting for the Fort Belvoir expansion continues this week. Last week's blasts didn't prompt any noise complaints. (Photo By Quentin Hunstad -- U.s. Army, Fort Belvoir)
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 28, 2008

Workers have begun underground blasting in the first stages of a major expansion of Fort Belvoir, expected to add 19,300 more jobs to the government facility and give a major boost to the economy of southern Fairfax County.

Demolition experts will be working Tuesday and Friday at the Engineer Proving Ground to dislodge large rocks blocking construction of a new headquarters for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Fort Belvoir officials said. Noise and vibrations from the blasts are expected to be minimal, they said, because the explosions will take place underground on the 800-acre site some distance from Springfield neighborhoods. Belvoir spokesman Don Carr said he received no complaints about blasting at the site last week.

The base already is home to more than 100 Defense Department and other federal agencies. The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process closed government facilities in other parts of the country and is bringing many of them to Belvoir, which is expected to reap the biggest gains of any Defense Department installation. Fort Belvoir has 23,000 military and civilian workers and will expand to more than 42,000 employees by 2011, probably exacerbating the area's traffic congestion.

The biggest projects already underway as part of the expansion are the construction of a $747 million community hospital just inside the base's Pence Gate and the $1.7 billion relocation of the NGA from its suburban Bethesda neighborhood to the proving ground's rolling hills and woods, once a prime site for training Army combat engineers. Its mission is to analyze spy-satellite data, among other things.

William Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, said he had heard no recent complaints about the construction work, which many businesses have welcomed as a way to revitalize a part of the county that has mostly older residences and businesses, as well as a growing population of low-income residents.

The blasting at the proving ground construction site will occur between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday and Friday, according to a Fort Belvoir advisory announcement. A 2007 announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the construction contract for what the NGA calls its 2.4 million-square-foot "New Campus East" was awarded to Clark/Balfour Beatty-NGA, a joint venture. Architectural drawings show three large buildings, including two long multistory complexes whose curved shapes make them look from above like two fat parentheses.

Henry Shields, a federal government employee who lives on Gormel Drive, a few blocks from the proving ground, said he was at home Friday when there was blasting but did not hear or feel it.

The Fort Belvoir expansion has been a topic at community meetings, he said. "There are several empty houses in the neighborhood, and some people are hoping they will sell now" with the expected influx of Fort Belvoir workers. Shields said he is planning to retire in two years and move to Charlotte, and is happy at the prospect of more potential buyers for his house. "I hope to hit it just right," he said.

The Fort Belvoir properties spread out along both sides of Interstate 95 near the Fairfax County Parkway exit. The proving ground is northwest of the highway, and the main base is southeast of it. Carr said he and other officials have been to more than 160 civic association and other community meetings since the expansion was announced and have found the reaction mostly positive.

Lecos said he was happy that many new workers will be able to use the Franconia-Springfield Metro stop to get to their jobs and that the expansion will stimulate new housing and new business opportunities for the area. Other facilities moving to Fort Belvoir include medical-care functions from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District; the Program Executive Office of the Enterprise Information Systems from Fort Monmouth, N.J.; inventory control functions from Mechanicsburg, Pa.; and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

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