Before the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) can take possession of any Army property at the fort, there are a few federal hoops to jump through.
What's taking so long?
One of those is the Memorandum of Agreement or MOA, a standardized business document that military agencies use, which defines the contractual relationship the military will have with an entity like FMERA. Members of the FMERA board and staff have been working with the Army for months to hash out the details of how and when, and under what conditions, the property that lies in three boroughs can be conveyed.
"The MOA is not required by law," says FMERA spokeperson, Laura Jones, "but is the Army’s preferred path forward."
Right now the MOA is still in draft form. This means it is a work in progress and it also means the public isn't privy to it yet.
Another closely related hoop, is the application for Economic Development Conveyance (EDC), which is required by the federal government before a base (or in this case, a fort) can be turned over. The MOA -- the over-arching agreement between FMERA and the Army -- is the basis for the EDC.
Part of getting EDC approval is showing that FMERA has a plan of sustainable growth and development for the site, including job creation. One of the ways FMERA intends to do this is with an electronic masterplan designed by the firm, . In April, Matrix presented its preliminary work on a Georaphic Information Systems database which the firm says will be a key tool in marketing the properties in the fort to developers and businesses, with the end goal being job creation and sustainability. An updated version of the electronic masterplan is expected within a month.
The EDC application, like the MOA is a work in progress. There is no set time line for this, FMERA says.
Who's footing the bill?
According to FMERA, the MOA identifies the split with the Army, but the detailed financials are in the pro forma, which is part of the EDC application. Again, this has not been finalized.
Here's where the conveyance of the property deviates from you selling your house. In the case of selling a residential home, the buyer and seller negotiate a price and the buyer pockets the proceeds, minus a realtor's commission. Here, FMERA has told the Army that because the property is 94 years old -- and many of its buildings and infrastructure decrepit or outdated -- there are costs to taking ownership of the fort that need to be accounted for in conveyance.
Some of these costs outlined in April, when Matrix presented its initial findings, were:
- Environmental contamination, which must be remediated (at the Army’s expense).
- Crumbling infrastructure, such as the electrical system that one Matrix representative referred to as “at the end of its life.”
- Roadways that don’t meet Department of Transportation standards.
- Buildings that are so big that they may be difficult to market.
- Buildings that are not up to codes, some with asbestos and lead paint.
- 50-year-old pipes that need to be replaced.
"We've been adament about this since December," said Bruce Steadman, executive director of FMERA, "and they [the Army] have heard us."
Another difference from you selling your house, is that the fort will be conveyed in stages over a course of years, with parcels being transfered individually. Over time, the 1,100 + acre property will be carved up into many smaller properties.
According to Steadman, FMERA and the Army meet regularly to work out the details of conveyance, part of which is agreeing on a percentage of the proceeds that will be directed back to FMERA, who will in turn dole out the funds to the boroughs involved, and itself, for qualified expenses.
"This," Steadman said, "makes the Army an equity partner in the sale."
The key is qualifed expenses. BRAC law determines 12 categories of expenses acceptable for FMERA or a borough to claim as a result of taking possession of the fort. An example of those expenses might be a town's increased need for fire or police protection. According to the Association of Defense Communities Web site, a few others acceptable expense include:
- municipal infrastructure;
- historic property preservation;
- marketing the project.
This, says FMERA, prevents any undue burden that Oceanport, Tinton Falls and Eatontown might feel as their towns swell in acerage.
Money will be set aside, Steadman said, for incremental costs. The money will not just be deposited into a town's general funds, but set aside to defray costs until tax revenues come in from tenants of the buildings sold or leased within the fort.
This process will be complex and involve reviews of the expenses and audits, and expenses will have a limit.
Is anyone doing anything?
For those on the outside of the FMERA bubble it can seem that nothing is happening to ready the fort for transfer, even as the countdown moves past eight weeks. This is mainly because negotiations between FMERA and the Army (and those with potential investors) are private.
Another cause might be that FMERA has its hands in many key projects - marketing, negotiations, environmental auditing, security and fire planning, drafting the MOA, creating real estate guidelines and historical preservation, to name a few. Like a major home renovation, where many projects are going simultaneously, there's not a whole lot to show for the work until the contractor pulls away and the realtor plunks down the For Sale sign.
Steadman said with closure imminent, FMERA is close to nailing down the details with the Army and he is confident that an agreement will be reached by September. Even in the next couple weeks, he expects to have reports on the environmental audits of the fort and a security plan.
"We're getting ready to wrap a nice big bow around it," he said.