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Community and military leaders gathered Feb. 28 at Jaycees Conference Center in Waldorf , Md. for the quarterly Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Civilian-Military Community Relations (COMREL) Council meeting. The council brings together Navy leaders from Naval Support Faculties (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head and civilian leaders from Charles and King George counties, and the towns of Indian Head and Colonial Beach. Members and guests discussed a diverse variety of topics affecting the region, from the looming sequester budget cuts, to transportation and environmental issues. All were particularly impressed by a group of civic-minded Northpoint High School students dedicated to helping military kids make the transition to new schools and new friends.

“I’d like to thank everyone for coming,” said Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of NSASP. “We’re pleased to have each and every one of you join with us.”

After the presentation of the Colors by members of the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) from Westlake High School and recitation of the pledge of allegiance, Candice Quinn Kelly, president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, welcomed guests. “Good morning everyone and welcome to Charles County,” she said. “It’s always such an honor to have you with us.”

Kelly announced some great financial news for Charles County: the county improved its credit score and now holds a Double A Plus rating from Standard and Poors. The county is also participating in two Joint Land Use Studies (JLUS) with NSASP installations at Naval Support Facilities (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head. The studies are primarily funded by the Department of Defense, but they are administered by local governments. The goal for JLUS is to provide a forum for the military and local communities to plan future developments in a way that benefits both parties. Charles County is also participating in a third JLUS for Naval Air Station Patuxent River, said Kelly.

“To see all three of these bases move forward with these studies is going to be an important impact on our region, in terms understanding all the benefits we derive [from the installations] and their economic importance,” Kelly added.

Kelly expressed concern about how the sequester might affect Charles County, noting that the cuts will hit local schools as well as military bases. Still, Kelly said the county is “prepared to deal with what comes our way and [we] feel have adequate safeguards in place.”

Despite the ongoing budget stress, Kelly was pleased to announce that ground has been broken for the construction of the new St. Charles High School. The 269,000 square foot state of the art facility will feature digital classrooms, telepresence and a planetarium. “This is going to be the first of its kind school in the nation,” said Kelly.

Nette returned to the podium to introduce NSASP’s new community planning and liaison officer, William Rau. “We’ll be seeing him at board and economic advisory meetings involving the community, especially with the Joint Land Use Studies,” said Nette.

Nette also thanked the community for its support of this year’s Citadel Shield exercises at Dahlgren and Indian Head, which fortunately saw little impact outside the bases. “We had a lot of support from the community from law enforcement and mutual aid type of services.”

A survey about community involvement in the NSF Dahlgren Environmental Restoration Program, the first survey of its kind since 2004, is being offered at Nette encouraged all members of the COMREL to participate. The survey can be accessed online at http://fluidsurveys.com/navy2013envcomm/nsfd-environ-community-update-2013/

Nette addressed the ongoing budget uncertainty and how it might affect NSASP and local communities. “What we can expect at our installations are, we will probably see a reduction in services, such as reducing a facility’s availability for a few hours per week.”

While Nette could not speak for the tenant commands hosted by NSASP, he said that all Navy organizations were planning for budget actions in accordance with their respective headquarters. “A lot of these things may be left to the discretion of local commanders,” he said.

Student to Student Program

Maryanne Quirk, school counselor at North Point High School, briefed the COMREL about a compelling program intended to help the children of service members who are new to the school fit in and make friends. Students who participate in the program, many of whom are themselves the children of military service members, accompany new students during their school transition.

North Point High School began the program in 2009 at the invitation of the Military Child Coalition, which provided Quirk and two students training to get the program started. “We know that North Point was selected because of its proximity to military bases and we also know that out of our population of more than 2,200 students, 353 are either military dependents or have parent that word for DoD,” said Quirk. “The purpose of Student to Student is to ease the transition of a new student to a new school, whether they are military or not. We bring the new students necessary and relevant information from a credible and relatable source: another student.”

The peer relationship provides benefits to both the new student and the Student to Student member, said Quirk. “This is just a great situation. It’s win-win.”

Alyssa Gonnella, a x student and participant in the Student to Student Program, explained her participation to the COMREL. “Student to Student has been a really great experience for me. I know when I first got to North Point-my father is a military civilian and my mother is in the reserves-so I’ve never moved, but I’ve been around a lot of people who have moved and I’ve been around a lot of people who have left. So I had a sense of how it felt to be the new one, to not know anybody.”

Gonnella was herself the new student when she left a private school in La Plata for North Point High School. Through cheerleading and other school activities, Gonnella successfully made the transition, though she wanted to help others. “Student to Student helped me realize that not everybody has that opportunity,” she said. “My first time showing somebody around, I realized how shy she was. So I told her about how I could relate to her and told her I understood how she felt. She opened up to me.”

After her first interaction with a new student in the program, Gonnella found that helping others was addictive. “It really made me feel good that I could help somebody else out, that I could show here that there are people who are going to accept you.”

Quirk, Gonnella and the rest of the young women who presented the Student to Student Program to COMREL received a rousing applause for their efforts.

Potomac Commuter Ferry update

Mark Gibb, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, briefed the COMREL about the progress of plans that would bring commuter ferry service to the Potomac River. “I’m pleased to have such a large and distinguished group to speak with today,” Gibb told the COMREL.

The proposed ferry service would link several busy hubs within the Washington region by water, a transportation idea that only exists in a few other American cities, such as Seattle. The goal is to ease traffic congestion on regional roadways.

Several local communities have expressed support for a study of the proposal. While no federal funding has yet been allocated to the study, Gibb noted that the funding situation could change. “No one has ever designated their river as a transportations node,” he said.

The Northern Virginia Regional Commission is conducting phone surveys to assess to project’s viability. “We’re hoping the military personnel [in the region] will support this study,” said Gibb.

Shoreline restoration summary

Cmdr. Jeff Brancheau, Naval Facilities Command Washington (NAVFACWASH) public works officer for NSASP, briefed the COMREL about the successful effort to restore nearly two miles of environmentally-sensitive and mission-critical shoreline. The $20 million project protects $54 million of base infrastructure and added 12 acres of wetland to the installation.

The wetlands create a “living” shoreline that prevents erosion and provides excellent habitat for aquatic life. Before the project commenced, the shoreline was eroding at the rate of 1.5 feet per year, said Brancheau.

The Navy completed all funded phases of the project with the help of the National Aquarium’s Conservation Team, which coordinated planting more than 50,000 native trees and shrubs at the shoreline with a diverse group of local, state and national conservation organizations.

That coordinated effort helped the project control costs and the expertise of the participating conservation organizations helped the initiative become a model for the Chesapeake Bay region.

“This [cooperation] is really the takeaway,” said Brancheau. “We appreciate the support of the community. It was a really great partnership.”

NSF Indian Head Steam Distribution System update

Brancheau continued with a brief about plans to upgrade Indian Head’s steam distribution system, known as military construction (MILCON) project 222 (P222). The current steam system, though antiquated, is vital for the production and development of energetic material on the base. “As you know, the infrastructure is very old in Indian Head,” Brancheau told the COMREL.

The Goddard Steam Plant, built in 1950s, is slated to be demolished along with 30 miles of old steam lines. In its place, two smaller primary plants and nine nodal plants will be constructed. The plants will use natural gas instead of coal and fuel oil.

The $62 million project will cut down on air pollution, improve the overall efficiency of the steam system and provide power redundancy for the base. “We expect to see shovels in the ground around the May or June timeframe,” said Brancheau.

An existing utility easement along Route 210 will provide the space for the expansion of the gas line to Indian Head. The new plant is expected to be up and running by the summer of 2016.