VERNON PARISH -- The U.S. Army's largest land acquisition since World War II is almost complete.
That's according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District, which is handling the "Fort Polk Land Acquisition Program" for the Army.
Clayton Church, district public affairs specialist, said 15 land parcels remain to be closed on. Corps officials, last year, said 65 tracts were sought, involving around 60 owners -- 29 with homes.
"This will complete the over 42,000 acres of land that will be purchased in this program to expand the range land at Fort Polk," Church said in an e-mail to the West Central News Center.
The program began in 2008 with the first parcel purchased in 2012. The Army's total authorization was for 100,000 acres. The land is in Vernon Parish, south and southeast of Peason Ridge.
When asked about additional purchase phases, Church said, "the installation has not provided any details regarding additional land purchases proposed nor authorized."
Army officials have said the land is needed for training expansion and will provide more opportunities for large unit maneuvers as well as enhanced live fire operations.
Residents were notified of the purchase plan by letter in early 2014. A landowners' meeting around that time laid out the process.
Shane Demmer, deputy chief of real estate for the Corps, told the News Center in a 2015 interview that the purchase process includes "just compensations" which start at fair market value, which is determined by the appraisal. Payment for property is made after an agreement is reached. Liens and pro-rated taxes are paid from just compensation. Closing documents are prepared by the government's attorney, and relocation assistance is offered. Eminent domain is an option.
"Our goal is not to surround private property with Army training land and we hope that by working with our landowners during the negotiation phase, and providing them benefits and assistance under the uniform act, the use of eminent domain will be avoided,” Demmer said.
When the plan was introduced and discussed by Fort Polk officials during 2009 public scoping meetings, residents were told eminent domain would not be used as the Army would deal with "willing sellers only." Officials later said the plan changed.
"Prior Fort Polk commanders have emphasized that goal during past scoping meetings, held in 2009. However, much has changed in the Army over the past five years as it reorganizes and reduces the force," states a May 2014 news release from the Fort Polk Public Affairs Office.
Fort Polk maintains a web page on the purchase program HERE.