09/20/12 — County votes to reject wind farm

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County votes to reject wind farm

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 20, 2012 1:46 PM

A proposed eastern North Carolina wind turbine project threatens not only the mission of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, but the region's other military installations.

That was the consensus Tuesday morning of Wayne County commissioners, who will draft a resolution opposing the project and forward it to state and federal lawmakers.

Commissioners said the loss of the Air Force base would cost the county billions of dollars.

Tuesday's action was a followup to the board's Monday night session, when state Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive said the county needs to immediately voice its collective opposition to the project that endangers the base's mission and could cause the Pentagon to close it.

The base has a nearly half billion dollar annual impact on the county, County Manager Lee Smith said. According to the state Department of Commerce, each dollar turns over four times before leaving the county, meaning the actual impact is closer to $2 billion annually, Smith said.

The project calls for the construction of a number of 496-foot tall windmills in the Beaufort County area, he said.

"You say, 'How does that impact us?'" Smith said. "They are in the middle of the low-level flying route for Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's F-15Es that go to the Dare County bombing range. If those are constructed, those F-15Es will leave this base. There will be no way around it. Basically you have lost Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. You might be able to retain the tankers."

The windmills would shut down the radar system at the Marine air station at Cherry Point, too, Smith said. Losing the Dare County bombing range would also have a negative effect on the mission of Oceania Naval base in Norfolk, Va., he added.

The discussion was not originally on the board's agenda, but Smith said he was asking commissioners to allow him, the Military Affairs Commission at the base, County Attorney Parker and clerk to the board Marcia Wilson to draft a resolution opposing construction of the windmills.

Commissioner Steve Keen said people need to pay close attention to the $2 billion cash flow.

"If you look at education, and what Wayne County has to provide in the school system in educating our children, K through 12, you will see that a lot of that is property tax and sales tax receipts. We have $24 million that we allocate annually for education. That is the number two issue in our budget at 27 percent.

"With that said, if we lose $2 billion a year, if that $2 billion a year goes away, we lose the cash flow and this county cannot sustain good education because of the lack of sales tax receipts and the lack of property values that we will see and probably not gain back for another 15 to 20 years."

The effect on education needs to pointed out in the resolution, Keen said.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen made the motion to have the draft done.

Before the vote, Commissioner Jack Best said that until recently the board did not realize how far along the project was.

"About a year ago, we had a military summit. The commander of Seymour Johnson looked straight at the governor and said, 'Governor, if you or anybody in this state takes away our training grounds, we have no reason to be here.' When we found out about it, the new base commander stuck her head out and wrote the governor and said, 'If you don't do something about this immediately, we have no reason to be here.'

"But it is political, very political. When we are talking about the lives of the people of eastern North Carolina, and somebody has made a political decision to allow wind turbines wherever they want to put them, and not consider the military, it is wrong."

To take it a step further, economic development would be adversely affected as well, Commissioner Ray Mayo said.

"Being in the manufacturing sector, we are trying to get aerospace companies to move into our area, and we are using the reasoning based on that is where the bases are located," he said. "We can make spare parts here in eastern North Carolina for the aircraft.

"If these bases are not here, guess what? We are going to have a hard time getting some of these high-tech aerospace companies in our area."