05/08/05 — Local officials response to BRAC

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Local officials response to BRAC

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on May 8, 2005 2:09 AM

Goldsboro Mayor Al King can't wait for the BRAC list to arrive.

"I am ready for this to be over," King said last week. "I really think we're OK, that we have done all that we can do, and we're not in any danger."

City and county officials said the base is in a much stronger position for this review than it was in 1995, when some weaknesses were cited.

"We are so much better prepared this time than we were in 1995. It's unbelievable," said Atlas Price, the longest-serving member of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

After the last BRAC, local officials worked to strengthen community-base relations, one of the weaknesses cited during the 1995 analysis. "We knew we had to do better, and everyone has worked together," Price said.

The Seymour Support Council has made many trips to the Pentagon to emphasize the ties between the base and the community, King said. The mayor has talked several times with Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We keep in constant touch with them. I think they understand how we feel about Seymour Johnson," King said.

The Seymour Support Council warned city and county leaders in 2003 that they were allowing too many new homes and businesses near the base. The development could hamper training, about which BRAC officials are especially concerned.

County commissioners ordered a moratorium on new subdivisions and mobile-home parks in a 26-square-mile area around the base. That ban stayed in effect until March, when the county approved new zoning and development rules to restrict development. In April, the City Council also toughened its zoning around the base.

As a result, new homes are no longer allowed anywhere the average noise level tops 75 decibels. The city and county have enacted rules to keep new hospitals, nursing homes, schools and day care centers out of high noise areas.

Both boards faced opposition from property owners angry about increasing restrictions on their land.

"Those decisions were hard to make," Price said. "We always tried to do what's right but also look at whom we might be hurting."

Local officials also worked to secure up to $8 million in grants from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund to buy undeveloped land in the accident potential zones off the runway's ends. Goldsboro lawyer Phil Baddour, a trustee and former state legislator, led that effort.

Last July, the trust fund's board agreed to give $1.7 million to buy 500 acres between the runway and U.S. 70 East. The city and county boards each agreed to contribute $300,000.

The Coastal Land Trust began negotiating on the local governments' behalf with 25 landowners who owned a total of 500 acres, most of which is being farmed or in timber production.

Once those tracts are acquired, they will be restored as wetlands or natural areas. The redevelopment will be planed to avoid attracting large birds that could interfere with or damage aircraft.

In February, the fund's board gave tentative approval to a $6.5 million grant to buy additional land both north and south of the runway. Final approval is set for this summer. This grant will require a $500,000 local match.

Most of the 850 acres are at the southwest end of the air force base landing fields, along the Neuse River, Caraway Creek and tributaries. Most of the land is low-lying.