As the President and CEO of the Knox Regional Development Alliance (KRDA), my work centers on our mission to promote and protect Fort Knox to increase its economic impact. While that means we regularly showcase what sets Fort Knox apart from other installations, our team also spends a great deal of time working with community leaders to make sure we do all we can to support the post to be the best neighbor. Why? First and foremost because it’s the right thing to do. Additionally, community support matters when the Department of Defense (DOD) considers retaining missions, growing existing missions or adding new missions.
The Threat of Encroachment
Over my last three years on the job, I’ve learned that being a good neighbor is a multifaceted effort. One of, if not the most important thing any defense community can do is proactively work to limit encroachment. DOD considers encroachment any external influences that negatively impact training. Fort Knox is known for its world-class training areas and ranges. Many people may not realize it, but Fort Knox’s ranges and training areas are among the most utilized in the Army, in part because of the lack of encroachment.
Thanks to a $52 million investment, Fort Knox will also soon have a Digital Air/Ground Integration Range or DAGIR, one of only two in the Army and the only one east of the Rockies. With the DAGIR, aviation units and ground forces will be able to simultaneously train and operate in the same simulated battle space. When completed in 2023, the DAGIR will bring increased unit training to Fort Knox as well as increased noise and air traffic. All the more reason, that as a community we work closely with our installation partners to mitigate potential encroachment challenges.
Compatible Use Planning
Successful encroachment mitigation efforts require a collaborative approach and a close working relationship between the installation and the community. In years past, communities and installations would conduct Joint Land Use Studies (JLUS). Now it is called Compatible Use Planning (CUP). The name change is relevant because JLUS was largely focused on land use and land development which is obviously critically important, but there are other factors that impact encroachment including noise pollution, light pollution, frequency spectrum encroachment, airspace restrictions and even climate change impacts. All can negatively impact training. The CUP takes those and other encroachment factors into consideration providing for a more comprehensive study and resulting plan.
Sometimes communities bring in outside consultants to do this work, but our region is blessed with a great area development organization, the Lincoln Trail Area Development District (LTADD). The LTADD received grant funding from the DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment to undertake our current CUP study. Launched in 2019, the LTADD is working with Fort Knox leaders, local and state officials and community stakeholders, like KRDA, to closely evaluate population changes, planning and zoning ordinances, as well as current and planned commercial and residential development.
Being a Good Neighbor is a Two-Way Street
“This is a great opportunity to provide input. It will help provide a better understanding of considerations to bear in mind and chart a way ahead that ultimately serves to benefit the military mission and community at-large."
– Col. C.J. King, Fort Knox Garrison Commander
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the LTADD team held public meetings to collect input on public concerns and raise awareness about Fort Knox’s $2.6 billion annual economic impact, current training on post and additional training that will be added once the DAGIR is complete. Throughout the process, Fort Knox leaders have emphasized that it is truly a partnership and being a good neighbor goes both ways. The installation has stressed the importance of hearing what’s on the mind of the public and promoting collaboration among all parties.
When complete, the study will yield a proposed implementation plan that aims to ensure local and regional sustainability between Fort Knox and its neighboring civilian communities. In building the plan, the LTADD is looking at compatibility tools and best practices both locally and throughout the DOD. One of the best examples happens to be right in our backyard where one county government has zoned land adjacent to Fort Knox’s southern boundary. The zoning limits residential lot sizes to 10 acres, preventing any dense, large-scale residential development.
Another best practice is the use of the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) Program. ACUB allows installations to work with partners to encumber off-post land to protect habitat, prevent development and buffer training without the Army having to acquire any new land. Fort Knox and the LTADD previously used ACUB to preserve 462 acres. Also, Fort A.P. Hill, just south of Fredericksburg, Virginia has leveraged ACUB to protect more than 14,000 acres through the use of conservation easements, successfully buffering the installation from the significant population growth and urbanization that has taken place between Washington D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.
While tools like ACUB are valuable, one of the most common best practices is a concerted and proactive communications and outreach effort specific to encroachment. This can include identifying primary points of contact in the community and on post who citizens can contact if they have questions or concerns. In fact, many Naval Air Stations actually have dedicated community planning liaison officers who regularly engage community partners on potential encroachment issues and solutions.
These best practices just begin to scratch the surface of what’s available to defense communities for compatible use planning. While it is a massive undertaking, the CUP study is really only the beginning. Putting the plan into action, carrying out the recommendations and undertaking a sustained effort to address issues and opportunities related to encroachment, ensures an installation and its surrounding defense communities can grow and prosper together. To me, that epitomizes what it means to be a good neighbor.
Brig. Gen. (Ret) Jim Iacocca
President / CEO
Knox Regional Development Alliance