The Talbot County Council agreed to participate in a joint land-use study requested by the Patuxent Naval Air Station at their public meeting last Tuesday.
The study has been approved by the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, which will pay for the study along with matching funds from the southern Maryland counties closest to the base.
The Office of Economic Adjustment typically assists communities adversely impacted by Defense Department changes, including base closures or realignments, base expansions, and contract or program cancellations. The office also administers the Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) program to encourage cooperative land-use planning between military installations and surrounding communities.
The JLUS is a comprehensive planning effort between a military installation and the surrounding communities. Its purpose is to give local communities the opportunity to promote compatible community growth while supporting military training and operational missions.
Chris Jarboe, a team leader for the Navy’s Atlantic Test Range, said any future large commercial wind energy projects in the county could pose a problem for base operations since wind turbines can degrade radar performance. Rotating wind turbine blades can impart a Doppler shift to any radar energy reflecting off the blades and sites with multiple turbines can magnify the problem.
Jarboe said the JLUS also may look at the impact of base aircraft using Easton Airport.
“Our pilots, when they’re not doing aircraft tests, they’ll actually go out and fly to keep their proficiency up and get their flight hours in,” said Jarboe. “One squadron comes to Easton four to six times a month for pattern work and flights into and out of the airport.”
The Patuxent base conducts a large variety of military operations including the Inner Atlantic Test Range, the Naval Air Systems Command and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division.
The Atlantic Test Range is the Navy’s principal research, development and testing support for naval aircraft, engines, avionics, and aircraft support systems.
Jarboe called the Atlantic Test Range the Navy’s open air laboratory. “Our mission is testing and evaluation of every Naval aircraft that goes out to the fleet,” he said.
Future activities of the base could depend on results of the study as the military continues its base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC.
“We’re really close by distance, by time and flight, but with the Bay between us as a natural barrier, it can also become a barrier to communication,” said Jarboe. “With this project, we’ll be able to keep the dialogue going.”
Wayne E. Clark, executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, is coordinating participation of 10 counties in the study.
The JLUS policy committee will be comprised of a representative from each of the 10 counties, the Naval Air Station, the Southern Maryland council, the Mid-Shore Regional Council, the Lower Eastern Shore Regional Council, the Northern Neck Planning District Commission and other agencies.
According to a resolution signed by the Talbot County Council, the council will make a good faith effort to “implement any recommendations included in the JLUS which are consistent with the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan and other local, state and federal plans, laws and/or ordinances while still recognizing the importance of private property rights.”
Councilman Dirck Bartlett asked if the county’s current wind turbines on Klondike Road affect the Navy’s radar systems.
County Manager John Craig said the Klondike road turbines fall under the county’s 150-foot height restriction, which according to the Navy is within an acceptable height. The only place in Talbot County where a 150-foot turbine could create a problem would be at the southern tip of Tilghman Island.
“During the course of the study who knows what may come up,” said Clark. “People in the sailing community might be concerned about helicopters flying low on the Choptank River. We’ll find out as the study progresses.”
Councilman Tom Duncan said noise is a concern at the airport and a current proposal to extend a runway has been controversial.
“Large aircraft is a concern to this county, there’s no question about it,” said Duncan. “We’ll be interested to see the results of your study. We understand the need for the military to develop their technology and we’re quite sure you’ll do a fair job, and we’ll get something on paper.”
The study process, which is expected to take a year, will include at least three advertised public workshops and one public hearing.
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