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Pentagon returns $10M from Trump's border wall meant for MCAS Beaufort fire station

Marine Air Station.jpg

The entrance to the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Monday Sept. 28, 2020. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Pentagon officials announced last week that they are returning $2.2 billion in military funding — including $10 million meant for a much-needed fire station at a South Carolina base — that had been commandeered by former President Donald Trump to fund his border wall project.

In early 2019, the Department of Defense allocated $10 million for a new fire station at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Officials said that not replacing it could be a safety hazard for military families if not addressed. 

Trump, in mid-February of that same year, declared a national emergency to bypass Congress after lawmakers declined funding for his expansive border wall project. Section 2808 of the U.S. Code allows for the president to allocate certain military funding to accomplish his policy objectives, and the Republican politician used it. He took aim at hundreds of military bases, and eyed several in the Palmetto State. 

The fire station was, ultimately, the only South Carolina construction funding that was caught in the crossfire of the border wall project.

But when Trump lost reelection to Joe Biden in 2020, funding for the border wall was cut by the incoming administration. By April, construction on the expansive wall stopped.

"We announced ... on April 30, the cancellation of all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds that were originally designed and meant for other missions and functions," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said. "The decision to restore this funding was based on operational and component priorities."

On June 10, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks signed a memo reallocating the funds for a variety of military construction projects, including the fire station. 

A replacement for the air station’s Laurel Bay Fire Station, a community for military officials and families near the base, was scheduled to be awarded in April 2020. But it was sidelined due to border wall construction. 

A 2018 report sent to Congress by then-Deputy Assistant Navy Secretary James Balocki showed the need to replace the fire station was dire. The aging building was built in 1959.

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It read, in part, “Personnel assigned to Laurel Bay will continue to work from a significantly undersized and unsafe facility. Because the structure does not meet seismic requirements, complete structural collapse is probable during a seismic event, causing death or major injury to emergency personnel, and thus preventing timely response to the USMC housing community following the event.”

Furthermore, the report said the fire station did not meet the Pentagon’s full requirements.

“The existing satellite fire station in Laurel Bay does not meet the minimum DoD facility size requirements — the existing station ... is undersized and not configured efficiently to respond to emergencies as required by criteria,” the report said.

It went on to say that cramped quarters and “quality of life have recently been exacerbated with the addition of an ambulance and paramedics squad that has been added as a new requirement to Laurel Bay.”

MCAS Beaufort officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Retired Army Gen. William Grimsley, the secretary of the S.C. Department of Veterans’ Affairs who oversees the state's Military Base Task Force, said he was glad the funding was restored for the fire station.

"Anything we can do to enhance the quality of life for our military family members is great," Grimsley said. "Our Marines deserve nothing less."

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly is a political reporter based in Charleston. He also covers the military community and veterans throughout South Carolina. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.