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Vitter addresses land acquisition program, says call will touch on landowner concerns

BY ELONA WESTON
LEESVILLE -- U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said Tuesday he'll be meeting with U.S. Army and Corps of Engineers officials "to help them plot a path forward" in the Fort Polk Land Acquisition Program "that respects local feelings and desires as much as possible."

Vitter made the comments during a town hall meeting. He said he is scheduling a call with officials this week.

The Army is eyeing acreage in a portion of northern Vernon Parish as part of its expansion plan. According to officials with the Corps of Engineers' Fort Worth District, there are 54 landowners being impacted -- 29 of them with homes.

Some want to sell to the government, but others do not. Corps officials have said residents would be given fair market value and that eminent domain is an option.

"I'm scheduling a call this week with some of the top Army folks. Both the commanding general (Brig. Gen. William Hickman), who I will probably see today, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers folks in charge of the land acquisition, to try to help them plot a path forward that respects the wishes and needs of the community as much as possible," Vitter said.

"I don't know that they can get to absolutely only buying land if there's a willing seller because obviously if you are doing training exercises or playing with live ammunition, that's very sensitive and you need a buffer area around that," he continued.

Vitter acknowledged that previous commanding generals said the process would be done through voluntary land acquisition only.

"As I understand it, two different commanding generals there, in the past, as this process was just getting underway, said it would all be done through voluntary land acquisition. In other words, if a landowner didn't have to sell, they wouldn't have to," he said.

Vitter underlined the importance of Fort Polk to the community and its economic impact.

"We don't want to give the military an invitation to walk away from Fort Polk," he said. "We need to make Fort Polk work and keep it a viable training facility."

Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center's annual economic impact on the state is $2.17 billion, according to the 2013 Statewide Military Economic Impact Analysis, commissioned by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.
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