Laurel Bay Fire Station

The Pentagon announced nearly 130 military construction projects were put on hold to divert $3.6 billion in funding to a wall at the Southwest border last week. One of the listed projects was a replacement for an aging fire station built more than 50 years ago at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Navy officials said in 2018 report that the station was past its "life expectancy" and could cause major damage if not repaired. (Cpl. John Wilkes/Marine Corps Photo)

President Donald Trump's order to reallocate funds from defense projects to fund his U.S.-Mexico border wall has drained money meant to replace a fire station at a South Carolina military base.

The $11 million allocation had been designated for new fire station at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Pentagon officials said last year that not replacing it could be a safety hazard for military families if not addressed. 

Last week, the Pentagon announced nearly 130 military construction projects were put on hold to divert $3.6 billion in funding to build Trump's wall at the Southwest border.

The aging fire station in Beaufort was built in 1959 — some 60 years ago. Navy officials said in a 2018 report the station is past its life expectancy. 

Other installations in the state fared much better. When the Department of Defense's initial list of projects that could potentially be cut came out in late March, at least $291 million in South Carolina base spending had been identified.

Those sites included the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Shaw Air Force Base, Fort Jackson and Joint Base Charleston. 

A replacement for the Beaufort air station’s Laurel Bay Fire Station was scheduled to be awarded in April 2020, according to the Pentagon's list. The department has responded to seven fires in the housing area last year and provided additional emergency assistance to fire departments in Beaufort, according to the air base. 

The 2018 report sent to Congress by Deputy Assistant Navy Secretary James Balocki shows the need to replace the fire station is dire. 

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."

Bill Bethea, chairman of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, told The Post and Courier that he's glad the impact wasn't worse overall.

"It's a good news, bad news situation," Bethea said. "This project did get caught up in the middle of it."

Trump declared a national emergency in February to bypass Congress after it declined funding for the border wall. Section 2808 of the U.S. Code allows for the president to allocate certain military funding to accomplish his policy objectives.

The military project cuts have been tough for the Palmetto State's Republican senators, forcing them into a balancing act between appeasing the current president and not angering pro-military voters in their home state. 

Bethea said he received word from both Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott that they will work to secure funding for the fire station in the following budget year. 

Scott's office repeated his commitment from March that the senator would ensure any project stalled by the wall effort is fully funded afterward.

"Sen. Scott spoke with the White House last week and reiterated both his support for strong border security and ensuring our military has all the resources they need," said spokesman Ken Farnaso.

"After speaking with them, it is his understanding that the Laurel Bay Fire Station will be funded next fiscal year and will finish on time as scheduled," he said.

Jamie Harrison, a Democratic candidate challenging Graham in 2020, took the Pentagon's funding announcement as an opportunity to jab at the incumbent who has long been a defender of all things military in the state.

"Sen. Graham played a key role in the roughly $11 million of military funds set to be taken away from the construction of a fire station in Laurel Bay’s Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort,” Harrison said. “(He) whispered in the ear of President Trump urging him to declare a national emergency at the expense of ripping away military construction funding. He promised millions of South Carolinians he would fight for them, but stopping federal funds for vital projects like these that aid in disaster recovery is shameful."

Kevin Bishop, spokesman for Graham, said Tuesday that the senator "will work to replenish the affected funding."

Rep. Joe Cunningham, a Charleston Democrat whose district includes the Beaufort base, decried Trump's decision to reallocate funds from military projects.

“Replacement of the Laurel Bay Fire Station is critical to ensuring the continuing health and safety of Lowcountry service members and their families," Cunningham said. "It is incredibly important we work together to secure our borders and ports of entry, but raiding funds from essential military construction projects isn’t the right way to do it. We can prioritize border security without putting our service members and military families at risk.”

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Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5715. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly reports on crime, growth and development as well as military issues in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Previously, he was a reporter at the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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