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Defense bill calls for Army control of Camp Merrill
A proposed land transfer wher Camp Frank D. Merrill sits from the U.S. Forestry Commission to the Department of Defense wold allow the aging camp to upgrade its facilities.

Camp Frank D. Merrill outside Dahlonega has long been Army strong. With President Barack Obama’s signature, it will be Army controlled.

Congress, as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act passed last week, voted to transfer 282 acres where the Army Ranger camp sits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Department of Defense.

The land is administered as part of the Gainesville-based Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest but permitted to the Secretary of the Army.

The move would be completed no later than Sept. 30, according to the act.

As part of the measure, some 10 acres administered by the Army Corps of Engineers would be transferred to USDA. That property is off Dunlap Landing Road in Gainesville.

“I’m glad to be getting this win under the belt,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, of the move, which he has pushed since shortly after taking office in 2013.

Collins said the land transfer gives the Army the opportunity to make improvements “without the bureaucratic regulation” of two federal departments.

“This is just an example where — nothing personal with the Forest Service — but their lease and control over an Army facility like that was raising safety and cost concerns,” Collins said. “And there was no need to have it under the lease agreement like it was when the Army has done such a great job of maintaining and restoring the property.”

Judy Toppins, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest spokeswoman, said Tuesday her agency “will work toward a smooth transfer of jurisdiction over the (land) ... should the legislation become enacted into law.”

In the meantime, “we will continue to work closely with the Army to provide for essential military training operations ... while protecting important natural resources,” she said.

In a September 2013 tour of the camp, Lt. Col. Michael A. Scarpulla, 5th Ranger Training Battalion commander, said he believed the land transfer would help speed up improvements at the camp.

“We don’t own this, so we’re kind of like a renter and we have to ask the landlord permission to do (improvements),” which delays projects from getting approved, he said.

And with delays, “you have the potential for increased costs,” Scarpulla said.

Camp Merrill’s history dates to 1951, when the Army started the Ranger mountaineering training site.

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