Camp Lejeune is growing, and it is growing quickly, including a large influx in population that will directly affect Pender County. "The troops are coming whether the infrastructure's there or not. The troops are coming," said Tom Roper, School Board Chair and Task Force member. For the past year, Tom Roper and other community leaders in the counties surrounding Camp Lejeune have been discussing the impact 12,000 additional Marines, and their families, will have on the area. About 40,000 people are expected to move to the area in the next 4 years. What was not planned on is the large number of troops soon to be returning from overseas. This means less time to prepare, and parts of Pender County being stretched thin. "Our elementary schools are grossly over crowded as is our middle school. If they bring any kids in our area, in an overcrowded situation, than that would make that situation worse,” Roper said. Another concern is added traffic on the already busy Highway 17. "With this traffic the way it is we're just not ready for it. If we had a bypass it'd be okay. I'm with the fire department also and I see a lot of traffic accidents," added Tom Phelan, a Pender County resident. Roper agrees, and is pushing the DOT to accelerate their Highway 17 bypass. Currently, it is on a 20 year plan. Of course, there is a positive side. he additional residents will mean more money flowing through the local economy. Pender County resident, Sam Wood, said, "For Pender County it's going to be a big boost for the economy. More jobs." Te task force is asking the state and federal governments for money to help improve area infrastructure, but that funding is not a sure thing. Footing the bill may ultimately be up to local tax payers.
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