04/27/04 — Meeting in Havelock promotes inmportance of military installations

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Meeting in Havelock promotes inmportance of military installations

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on April 27, 2004 1:58 PM

HAVELOCK -- Promoting the importance of military installations in North Carolina was at the forefront of the meeting Monday of the N.C. Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.

The commission approved a strategic plan for making North Carolina the most military-friendly state in the nation and will now brief others like the governor, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of commerce about publicizing it statewide.

The commission established four committees to develop the plan of how to help sustain the state's military installations. Members received finished copies at the February meeting and officially adopted the plan on Monday during a meeting at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.

The four committees are military base sustainability; intergovernmental affairs and public relations; economic development; and quality of life and workforce development.

The commission is a panel that makes recommendations to the governor about the economic effect of and the relationship among the bases and their surrounding communities. Several Wayne County residents are on the commission.

Maj. Gen. (retired) Hugh Overholt, commission member, suggested that a committee be appointed to hold people accountable for making sure the plan is enacted. Troy Pate, co-chairman, suggested that each committee be responsible for its own part of the plan.

BRAC update

After military leaders left the meeting, the rest of the board briefly discussed the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC. Military personnel are not allowed to discuss BRAC. The process is scheduled for 2005, and Pentagon officials have said that the DoD has 24 percent excess base infrastructure capacity, said Jeffrey Lane, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. He provided an update on where the process stands.

The DoD has published the final BRAC criteria, and priority has been placed on military value and military branches being able to work together. He said base realignment would also be a major part of the process. Base commanders are reaching out to their local communities to get information to provide to Congress.

Lane said there has been talk in the U.S. House of Representatives to stop the BRAC process, but he does not expect that to happen under the Bush administration, and he recommended that the commission continue planning for it to take place.

No one knows if any of the state's five major bases -- Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base -- will be placed on the list. Previous BRAC reports from 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 resulted in 97 bases selected for closure.

In March 2005, President Bush will appoint a BRAC commission and the secretary of defense will make his recommendations by May 2005 to the commission, which will have nine members -- six appointed by Congress and three appointed by the president.

By that September, the commission will submit a list of bases to the president, who will accept or reject it. Congress will then accept or reject the list.

Preston Garris, commission member from Wayne County, asked what is being done to get someone on the BRAC commission from North Carolina. He encouraged legislators to try to accomplish that.

A recent economic study was prepared for the commission. It indicates that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base affects nearly 15,000 employees and contributes $800 million to the state's economy.

The study was prepared by East Carolina University Regional Development Services; Regional Economic Models Inc., of Amherst, Mass.; and N.C. State University's Division of Community Engagement. The commission plans to use the study when getting its message across about how important the military is to the state.

Hal Tanner Jr., chairman of the intergovernmental affairs and public relations committee and publisher of the Goldsboro News-Argus, said the results will be made available on the Internet and work is being done to break down the economic effect by legislative district. His committee is also working on a Power Point presentation and a brochure on the military in North Carolina.

Goldsboro and Wayne County governments have been commended for their efforts in helping to protect Seymour Johnson. The county commissioners voted in December to suspend all new subdivision development around the base. The moratorium is scheduled to end in early June.

County residents will have the chance soon to speak about a proposal to make it tougher and more expensive to build near Seymour Johnson. The commissioners agreed on April 6 to call a public hearing for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 20. It will be held in the large courtroom on the second floor of the Wayne County Courthouse.

The proposed changes in zoning would affect more than 3,000 property owners, who will be receiving notices by mail. The commissioners agreed on a new zoning map to present at the hearing, which would extend zoning around the base and its flight lines to more than 30 square miles. The map would set "airport" zoning for most of the land where aircraft traffic causes an average noise level of 65 decibels or more above normal. That zone would only allow one house per acre.

N.C. Sen. Scott Thomas, a member of the Joint Select Committee on Military Affairs, attended the meeting and said there are a number of pieces of legislation that will be introduced in the legislature's short session, including an act to waive an amount equal to one-third of the fuel tax collected on military installations each year to improve quality of life programs and one dealing with military spouses state hiring priority.

The commission also adopted a resolution of support on behalf of the Citizen-Soldier Support Program. The resolution states that the National Guard and Reserve are vital to the security of the nation and that the program is to strengthen family and community support for them.