09/09/12 — MAC speaks out against wind farm

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MAC speaks out against wind farm

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 9, 2012 1:50 AM

A project that would result in the creation of the first wind farm in Eastern North Carolina is facing the scrutiny of local military advocates who say construction of dozens of turbines near the coast would jeopardize critical Air Force training missions.

In a statement dated Aug. 29, members of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee said they do not oppose the development of wind projects, "as long as they are sited in appropriate locations and are not incompatible with the military mission ... and that of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base."

But the Pantego Project, an effort that would see approximately 50 500-foot turbines constructed on an 11,000-acre tract in Beaufort County, would encroach, they said, on "the Air Force's primary low-altitude training route, the final segment leading directly into the Dare County Bombing Range."

4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt confirmed Friday that the proposed wind farm is located within the unit's "most heavily used low-level route" -- that the presence of turbines there would interfere with F-15E aviators' ability to complete essential training missions from bombing runs to intercept maneuvers.

And because each student is required to be proficient in those tactics before earning operational status, complicating flights into the Dare range could jeopardize the wing's ability to ensure future aviators are ready for combat.

"Dare County is one of the only ranges on the East Coast that has low-fly airspace," Col. Leavitt said. "Realistically, within the range of Seymour Johnson, it is by far the best and only low-altitude airspace we have to do low-altitude bombing runs, low-altitude intercept training and all of these events that are required by our syllabi."

The reason for the requirements, she added, is simple.

"The F-15E is the only U.S. Air Force fighter that maintains a low-fly capability in a terrain-following type of scenario," Col. Leavitt said. "You never know what the next conflict is going to demand. We don't know what the scenario will look like. You know, there may be a situation that requires us to ingress low. It may be a highly contested area. ... So our aircrew must be trained to do that mission, because, like I said, we are the only fighter that trains to do that on a regular basis."

Air Force aviators are required to fly at least 500 feet above structures, so should the proposed turbines be constructed, that would force the them to increase their altitude to 1,000 feet in the middle of their ingress to Dare -- and make it difficult for them to adjust in time to successfully complete their training.

And studies have shown, Col. Leavitt said, that the turbines also interfere with the jets' radar systems, which creates a safety concern for aircrews during intercept missions.

So armed with this knowledge, those with a vested interest in protecting the Goldsboro installation that pumps more than $510 million into the economy intend to fight the proposed location of the farm.

And they will eagerly await the results of a Department of Defense briefing on the Pantego Project scheduled for Monday.

For information on what transpires during that briefing, follow the News-Argus in print and at www.NewsArgus.com