09/26/12 — County urges action to save flight routes

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County urges action to save flight routes

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 26, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners are asking state legislators to block "all encroachment or impairments" to military training routes without state approval. They also want stricter permitting and public input processes for wind and solar energy projects.

Just as importantly, they say, is a need for state and/or regional planning guidance and assistance for communities in military regions when they consider infrastructure decisions. Help also is needed to develop plans to ensure growth is not at odds with sustaining the military's mission in the state, commissioners said.

And they are asking counties, municipalities, elected officials and leaders across the state to join them in their efforts to protect the state's military bases.

Commissioners are raising the alarm in response to a planned wind turbine farm, which would be built in eastern North Carolina directly in the low-level training route flown by Seymour Johnson Air Force Base F-15Es on their way to the Dare County bombing range.

The windmills tower to 505 feet -- five feet above the 500 feet the jets travel.

Along with disrupting the flight pattern, the windmills would interfere with the aircrafts' main radar and its terrain-following radar system, commissioners said in a resolution voicing opposition to the project.

Other military bases would be adversely affected as well, commissioners said in the resolution -- copies of which have been sent to state and federal lawmakers.

"The Wayne County Board of Commissioners is asking for your office or board to support this resolution in opposing this project that basically 'shuts down' military operations in North Carolina," reads an introductory letter by Chairman John Bell, which accompanies the resolution.

State Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive first broached the issue when commissioners met Sept. 17 at Southern Wayne High School at Dudley.

The military already is under threat of substantial budget cuts and the loss of the airspace also could figure negatively into future Base Realignment and Closure Commission decisions, Pate said.

Commissioners followed up on Pate's comments by adding the issue to their Sept. 18 agenda.

At that meeting, commissioners said the loss of the Air Force base would cost the county billions of dollars annually.

It also would hurt the region at a time when it is working to attract aerospace companies, Commissioner Ray Mayo said.

According to the resolution:

* Military growth is expected to increase the state's gross product by $2.9 billion and add 49,000 new jobs by 2013.

* More than 416,000 people, or 8 percent, of the state total's employment are directly employed by the military or Coast Guard or have jobs with organizations and companies producing and/or providing military support services in the state.

* Seymour Johnson has approximately 5,200 active duty military and 1,100 reservists. In fiscal year 2011, the total economic impact of the base on the county was more than $534 million with those dollars turning over four times before leaving the county.