04/07/13 — Legislators emphasize support for Seymour

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Legislators emphasize support for Seymour

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 7, 2013 1:50 AM

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State Sen. Louis Pate, left, talks with Wayne County Commissioners Steve Keen and Ray Mayo on Friday morning.

State House members "were actually fighting" to be primary sponsors of a bill that would help protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the state's other military installations, said Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-4. The issue is that important, he said.

"That is all that we need to say about that," said Dixon, who along with Rep. John Bell, R-10, won that fight to be primary sponsors of House Bill 484. Sen. Louis Pate, R-7, and Sen. Don Davis, D-5, are sponsors of Senate Bill 491, the state Senate version.

Dixon, Pate and Davis pledged their support of the state's military during a Friday morning breakfast meeting between local legislators and Wayne County commissioners. Bell could not attend because of a prior commitment.

However, Commission Chairman Steve Keen said that Bell had called and is very concerned about the issue and talked about getting it on the floor as soon as possible.

Friday's session was requested by commissioners who shared their concerns about unfunded state mandates and vanishing state funds.

There are a number of issues of local importance, Keen told the legislators, but that for him perhaps none was as important as safeguarding Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. That includes protecting the low-level flight patterns out to the Dare County bombing range that had been threatened by a proposed windmill farm near the coast.

The base sends billions of dollars through the local economy, Keen said. A loss that would be very, very difficult to recover from, he said.

The bills set out restrictions in permits for wind energy facilities. It also requires that anyone requesting such projects to provide "extensive information" on the effects on the environment and both civilian and military flights.

It further requires that notice be provided to any military installation that might be affected by such a facility.

Commissioners at their Tuesday board meeting unanimously adopted a resolution asking that all of the state's legislators support the bills.

"We took it upon ourselves to look at some letters being passed around by the Military Affairs Committee here about three and a half weeks ago," Keen said. "We took those letters back and forth from lobbyists that are working hard in the state government and federal government for us. We took that letter and put it together with the help of our counsel, Mr. (Borden) Parker, and (County Manager) Mr. (Lee) Smith who put together a resolution this past Tuesday and (commissioners) passed it.

"We sent it out to all senators and house members in the state, everybody that we could get our hands on, to make this thing first and foremost above anything right now. It is so important to protect our military installations here in North Carolina. Can you help us out on this one?"

Also, the information is to be forwarded to the area's congressional delegation so that its members will know what the area faces in light of a possible Base Realignment and Closure Commission within the next few years, Keen said.

Pate told commissioners that the issue has captured the attention of the General Assembly.

"The thing of it was that without a bill like this, the requirements of this bill, things like this could sneak through without anyone having any knowledge of it until it is too late," Pate started.

"It did sneak through," Dixon said of the proposed wind farm.

"It was almost too late with this," Pate continued. "I would like to give a lot of credit to the Seymour Johnson MAC (Military Affairs Committee). Jimmie Edmundson, some of those folks, the city manager of Goldsboro, several of you county commissioners came up and we had some meetings in which we expressed very much how critical this bombing range is, and the low-level routes is to the mission of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the F-15Es out there because this is the only place on the East Coast where they can practice what they need when they go into combat.

"The very idea of putting these windmills up right in the very area where they fly through at 500 feet above the ground and these things (windmills) go 500 feet above the ground -- it just doesn't make any sense."

Pate said he appreciates the resolution.

"And believe you me it will be an attention getter to all of the representatives and senators across the state," he said. "It just underlines the things that we have been trying to tell them to nip this in the bud. I believe this bill will protect us in the future."

Pate said he was not opposed to wind energy, but that the projects needed to be built in the "right place."

Davis said he appreciated Pate recognizing those who had "shouted loud" in this issue.

"I stand as a proud sponsor of this bill," Davis said. "My commitment is to not only to vote for it, but to work to get as many of our colleagues to vote for and support this legislation."

Dixon said the issue provides eastern North Carolina east of Interstate 95 with a golden opportunity.

"Most of you know my attachment to agriculture," said Dixon, a Duplin County farmer. "There is strength in numbers. If we attach what we do for freedom through our military with what we do with food in eastern North Carolina, and package food and freedom to the rest of the rest of the state of North Carolina we have got an eastern North Carolina team that can't be beat -- food and freedom."