09/18/12 — County leaders: Now is time to end N.C. windmill project

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County leaders: Now is time to end N.C. windmill project

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 18, 2012 1:46 PM

DUDLEY -- It took six speakers less than 15 minutes Monday night to say their respective pieces at the Wayne County commissioners' second and final scheduled evening session held at Southern Wayne High School. The meeting was attended by 14 people.

The speakers touched on the need to clean up property, mobile home park ordinances, problems with the county's new payroll system and working to ensure the county is business-friendly.

However, most of the conversation during the hour-long session centered on comments by Commissioner Steve Keen, expanded on by state Sen. Louis Pate Jr. of Mount Olive, concerning Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's impact on the county's economy and the need to protect the base.

Specifically, the county needs to immediately voice its collective opposition to a proposed wind-energy farm in the eastern part of the state, which would impact the base's ability to conduct training missions, Pate said.

Speaking late in the meeting, Pate urged commissioners to contact state and federal lawmakers to seek their support in opposing the wind farms.

The issue was not on the agenda for the board's meeting this morning. However, County Manager Lee Smith said he planned to ask the board to add it to the agenda.

Another Base Realignment and Closure evaluation can be expected, but even before that, Congress is looking at making substantial budget cuts that would affect the military, Pate said.

"We depend quite a bit on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for our economic well-being in Wayne County," Pate said. "A lot of counties would kill to have that operation there."

If the budget cuts are made, there is going to be a "slash and burn" all across the military, he said.

"It is going to strike Seymour Johnson because it is going to strike all of the bases if it happens," Pate said. "We are hoping there is some workaround to keep that from happening."

However, it has reached a point where the General Assembly is forming a committee to look at the possibilities "if something like that was to happen," he said.

North Carolina fared well in the last BRAC -- its bases even picking up some missions, Pate said. There is no guarantee that will be the case next time around, he added.

"I would hope our county commissioners would jump all over that with a resolution forwarded to the appropriate authorities saying that you do not want that wind farm to be there. That it is a detriment to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and their mission."

The project is actually across three different counties, Smith said. The almost 500-foot windmills would endanger the low-level training the base's pilots need, Smith said.

"If those windmills go in in Beaufort County, Seymour Johnson will close with the exception of the tankers," he said. "If all we have left are the tankers, we will lose this base."

Smith asked those at the meeting to raise their hands if they were affected by the meeting.

"If somebody in this room does not raise their hand, something is wrong with you," Smith said. "Those F15s and those tankers save our lives and protect our freedom every single day. And like Mr. Keen said, there is a $500 million a year impact -- that is nothing to sneeze at. You and I have a responsibility to talk to every legislator you can possibly email, text, Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is you do, or call today."

The project is only one more permit needed and the windmills can go up, he said.

"It is time for us to say no to these windmills on the coast," Smith said. "We have got to say no now."

Smith said he had spoken to pilots at the base who had told him there was nowhere else in the county where they could fly their planes and train like they do in eastern North Carolina.