By John Budnik
USACE - Alaska District Public Affairs
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON – From places like remote Alaskan villages to military recruiting stations across the state, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District’s Real Estate Branch is doing its part to complete the Army mission in the Last Frontier.
One example of the branch’s pivotal role is the construction of a rock revetment to help protect Unalakleet, an eroding coastal village nearly 800 miles northwest of Anchorage. Before the Corps could build, 25 pieces of property needed to be purchased on a small strip of land where construction activities eventually commenced.
The realty specialists tracked down each of the existing property owners. Unfortunately, some were deceased, leaving their heirs to agree to the sale. In one case, the Corps needed consent from a family of 14 individuals to acquire one parcel of land.
“Finding multiple owners is a feat easier said than done and can take a lot of time,” said Mike Coy, chief of the Real Estate Branch. “It is one of the challenges and part of the fun of the real estate mission.”
While serving the Corps and its projects, the district’s 10-person team also operates as the real estate agent for the U.S. Army in Alaska and by choice for the Air Force, he said. The group duties are not exactly comparable to agents most homeowners are accustomed to conducting business with, however.
The bulk of the branch’s work includes managing outgrants, in-grants, real property and the recruiting lease program on behalf of the Department of Defense.
Outgrants are instruments issued to an organization that give permission to use land or facilities belonging to the military. The grants can be between federal entities, licenses to non-federal agencies, utility companies and leases for more specific uses such as fast-food restaurants and financial institutions interested in conveniently serving the military community.
“If there is a utility company wanting to run an electrical line across an Army installation in Alaska, then we implement the agreement allowing them to do so,” said Brinda Hazard, realty services team lead. “We also grant the ingress and egress capabilities needed in order to maintain that line.”
Recently, the realty specialists began performing annual compliance checks to ensure that the tenants are following the established parameters of their agreements. Being in Alaska, logistical challenges must be overcome to complete these inspections. A few of the realty specialists have received all-terrain vehicle training, and they hope to get everyone trained within the next few years, Hazard said.
For Corps missions like those within the environmental program that require access to private property, the branch administers right-of-entries or land-use agreements. So far, about 69 actions have been executed for the district’s Formerly Used Defense Sites Program and other environmental activities. The FUDS program cleans up old military sites around Alaska that are remnants from the World War II and Cold War eras. The land no longer belongs to DOD.
“There is no way we can accomplish projects such as environmental cleanup or civil works without real estate personnel being involved,” Coy said. “For FUDS, we find out who the property was transferred to and obtain the rights to go onto the land for the Corps’ investigation and efforts. We have to be on the forefront of the action.”
Shifting congressional authorities allowing the federal government to acquire property in order to build projects like the revetment in Unalakleet kept the real estate personnel challenged.
“They have had to stay on top of everything,” said Dave Williams, project manager in the Civil Works Branch overseeing the work at Unalakleet. “They are needed to help identify property access and issues from the beginning of feasibility studies through construction.”
Meanwhile, the branch also is responsible for maintaining the district’s real property inventory list. The task is required to measure and record the footprint of buildings, fences, parking lots and sidewalks to prepare the agreement authorizing the district headquarters and its assets to reside at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The list also justifies the operation and maintenance costs, Hazard said.
Additionally, the branch oversees the Recruiting Lease Program for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard and Reserves by working with commercial building owners. The storefront offices are the first points-of-entry for new recruits wishing to serve in the military. As world events occur, new security regulations add additional work for the team to ensure the safety of military recruiters, Coy said. Currently, the branch manages leases for 21 recruiting facilities across Alaska.
While this small team of realty specialists have responsibility for laying the critical groundwork for projects ranging from shore protection at Unalakleet to helping enlist the next generation of servicemen and women, their tenacity is what helps the Army achieve mission success.
“A realty specialist should be a strong-willed, independent person,” Coy said. “We are the real estate agents for the Army.”