Efforts to protect the state's military installations from the encroachment of gargantuan wind turbines have won the first "little battle," but the need to win the war remains, House Majority Leader John Bell said Friday.
Bell, a member of the Homeland Security and Military and Veterans Affairs committees, make his comments during the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's legislative breakfast.
Held at Lane Tree Golf Club, and sponsored by the News-Argus, the other members of the local legislative delegation agreed with Bell, R-District 10, of Goldsboro, on the importance of protecting the base.
Sen. Don Davis, D-District 5, of Snow Hill, was the only member to voice any support for the wind turbines.
"We must protect Seymour Johnson," Davis said. "We must protect or promote or whatever you call it, we must keep them here. We agree on that. I would also say that you could put my record on this issue next to anybody's record on this issue. With that being said, I stand on everything that Rep. Bell communicated and conveyed, but I would also put in a little twist and take it a little step further.
"I totally oppose putting a wind turbine in the pathway of a training mission. But does that mean wind turbines can't be located anywhere in the state of North Carolina? No. What it means is that we need to continue to work on this matter and we have been."
Moderator Hal Tanner III, The News-Argus publisher, said that in May of 2013 House Bill 484 became a new law.
Under the new law wind facility permitting at the state level took the unique military concerns into considerations, he said. These state-level concerns had not been part of any federal permitting process, Tanner said.
"House Bill 574 has been introduced as an attempt to amend the process and as of now will absolutely weaken House Bill 234," he said. "Please explain why this bill is a threat to our area and provide an update on where this bill stands after crossover week.
"Please also discuss measures that need to be taken to ensure that House Bill 484 is not weakened."
The good news is that crossover came and went and House Bill 574 did not make it to the House floor, Bell said.
"When that bill was introduced I had a lot of concerns," he said. "One of the issues we were looking at is how to actually further include the military in the decision-making process with wind permitting.
"When the bill rolled out I had planned to be a sponsor on the bill. Then I looked at the bill and said absolutely no way. You are going to try to sit there and gut a permitting process that was put into place with House Bill 484."
The committee didn't support it nor did any of the bases in the community, he said.
"We had outside groups that did support it," he said.
The state Military Affairs Committee did not support it, but the wind companies did because it was going to downgrade their criteria to be able to push through wind projects, he said.
"These folks in the wind industry are crafty," Bell said. "They are well funded, and they are on a mission to push their projects through. So we won a little battle. We have to win the war.
"This issue is very important and we have to stay engaged in this. The Military Affairs Committee is engaged and folks, we cannot let anything interfere with the operations at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base especially when we are on the cusp of actually picking up missions and growing our base, not just here, but also at Cherry Point."
Legislators and local leaders talk about economic development and the good things happening in eastern North Carolina, he said.
People like to talk about what a car manufacturer would do for the area, Bell said.
That pales in comparison to moving the joint strike fighter operations to eastern North Carolina, he said.
Military bases and growth mean "billions and billions of dollars" that can fundamentally change eastern North Carolina, Bell said.
The new refueling tankers that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is being considered for will be a "game changer," for the state, he said.
"If there is anything, anything, that is going to disrupt that opportunity everyone in here needs to be in Raleigh fighting, screaming, yelling and saying do not do this," Bell said. "Trust me, they will listen."
People might ask what the big deal is all about that, Bell said.
"Well, here is the big deal," he said. "I don't know if you have ever visited a wind facility. I don't call them wind farms because I don't believe you grow turbines. You grow crops. Just to put it in perspective, they are about the size of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Raleigh. You are looking 500 to 600 feet per turbine.
"If you put those in a low-level flying route and an F-15 has to drop to 500 feet to get into the Dare County Bombing Range to do training and you've got a 620-foot wind turbine. Well, things are not going to go well."
The turbines prevent the military from training, he said.
Anything that hampers training at the Dare County Bombing Range, whether it is planes from Seymour Johnson or Cherry Point will cost the state military operations, Bell said.
The folks who put the clearinghouse process in place on the federal level say it is working, Bell said.
But the only thing they decide is if it is a threat to national security, he said.
"Why I haven't seen a wind turbine yet that's a threat to national security or even take a shot of getting rid of ISIS," he said. "But what they do do is they actually prevent us from training.
"Those 98 F-15s at that base, is a training base. We do have a fighter squadron, but if anything disrupts that, they will pick up that mission and move it somewhere where they can train."
Sen. Louis Pate, R-District 7, of Mount Olive, said that if anyone from the base was at the breakfast that he hoped they would take back the message that everyone in the local legislative delegation is "150 percent" behind the base's mission and national defense.
"It is critically important that we keep these (training) lanes open to the most unique bombing range on the East Coast of the United States so that we will have access to it at all times because if you don't train the way that you are going to fight, you have probably lost the fight," Pate said.
The training pilots are able to do now, without any restrictions that wind turbines would place on them, is causing the U.S. to win the air war in other countries, he said.
"Let's protect our investment here, but let's also protect our national defense because it is critically important to our way of life," Pate said.
Rep. Larry Bell, D-District 21, of Clinton, said that John Bell was just as excited on his first day in the General Assembly as he is now about protecting the base.
"I followed his lead then, and I continue to follow his lead," he said. "He has been doing an excellent job with that."
Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-District 4, of Mount Olive, said the sound of freedom represented by the aircraft should never be silenced over Wayne County. To silence them here holds the potential to silence it worldwide, Dixon added.