01/24/14 — County to join land use study

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County to join land use study

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 24, 2014 1:46 PM

Wayne County Commissioner Bill Pate and county Planning Director Connie Price will serve on a Department of Defense Joint Land Use Study group that will look at gaps in land use planning in counties near the Dare County Bombing Range.

The study was spurred by ongoing concerns that development of massive wind turbine facilities would adversely affect the mission of the state's military bases, particularly Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The base and bombing range were nominated by Air Force leaders for the study that includes military training routes and military operating areas.

The federal Office of Economic Adjustment will pay 90 percent of the study cost and the state Department of Commerce will pay the rest.

The Department of Commerce will be the sponsor and lead agency for the study.

Along with Wayne, the study area encompasses Washington, Bertie, Beaufort, Hyde, Dare and Tyrrell counties.

Representatives from the seven counties, including Pate and Commissioner Steve Keen, and officials from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the state and the Office of Economic Adjustment met Nov. 25 to talk about the proposal.

The study would be used as a comprehensive strategic plan, including specific actions to address civilian development that might impair a base's ability to perform its mission.

Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution agreeing to participate in the study. The resolution cited support of Seymour Johnson's mission and recognition of the economic importance of protecting the state's military.

Officials worry that the turbines, which can rise as high as 500 feet, would interfere with the low-level flights paths that the base's F-15E fighter jets take to the Dare bombing range.

The fear remains even though legislation signed into law in May created a uniform permitting process for wind energy facilities in the state.

"There is still concern about the windmill projects because they have to use a low-altitude to that bombing range," Pate said. "I am doing this from memory, the problem is not really during the day and good weather. But if they have to come in at night, and if the weather is bad, the radar may not be right it might be off a few feet and obviously that would be very critical. So there is still a lot of concern about those windmills in the flight path."

Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Beaufort counties have agreed to participate as well.

Bertie County has not yet discussed the resolution, said its interim county manager, Scott Sauer. It is being looked over by the county's planning board and is expected to come before the Bertie commissioners when they meet next month, he said.

Washington County commissioners have discussed the issue over the past two months and are expected to do so again next month.

Washington County Manager Jerry Rhodes said the concern in his county is that the study could revive the Navy's interest in locating a controversial outlying landing field in the county.

As originally planned, the field would have been used by jets from the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia. That project was stopped after Washington and Beaufort County officials and environmental groups filed suit in federal district court.