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Group studies land uses around Malmstrom base  

Credit:  KARL PUCKETT, Tribune Staff Writer, Great Falls Tribune, www.greatfallstribune.com 24 February 2011 ~~

Local governments, working with wind developers and Malmstrom Air Force Base, should develop a color-coded map identifying locations where wind turbines could interfere with Malmstrom’s helicopters, according to a consulting firm.

Phoenix-based Matrix Design Group is studying land uses around Malmstrom facilities in northcentral Montana in an effort to limit conflicts.

The wind map is one of several preliminary recommendations its come up with so far.

Matrix is expected to release a draft report containing final recommendations for public comment later this year.

Matrix officials are in Montana this week to meet with local government planners and conduct public meetings to fine-tune their proposals.

They met with city and Cascade County officials for two hours Wednesday in Great Falls.

Local governments should keep an eye on cumulative wind farm development, said Michael Hrapla, vice president of Matrix.

“You can put a wind farm just about anywhere,” he said.

Cascade County hired the company to study development around the base and its missile complex in northcentral Montana, and to recommend tools to minimize development that could interfere with Air Force missions.

The base produces $433 million in economic benefit for the region.

The $220,000 study is funded by the Office of Economic Adjustment, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The study involving Malmstrom is the first time a missile field has been considered along with the base proper, Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs said.

Malmstrom has nuclear missile launch facilities in Cascade, Lewis and Clark, Fergus, Wheatland, Judith Basin, Chouteau and Teton counties. A 25,000-mile spider web of buried cable connects the facilities.

“This particular document just gives us recommendations,” Briggs said.

A set of voluntary “compatible development standards” providing guidance for development near the base, the missile complex and the fly zone of helicopters is another idea that is highly recommended.

Establishing a “military overlay airport district” encompassing the base, with the city of Great Falls and Cascade County modifying zoning in that area, is another idea mentioned in a working document under discussion.

“In some cases, it could reduce restrictions already in place on land use, or it could increase (them) by adding restrictions on certain types of buildings or heights of buildings,” Briggs said.

However, Briggs said he doesn’t believe that recommendations restricting development via zoning will end up in the final report. If they do, they still would need to be approved by the city and county, he said. Rural counties in the study area do not have zoning.

“It does not actually change zoning regulations or any other land—use policy,” Briggs said of the study. “That will require the normal public processes for changing a zoning.”

Company officials said final recommendations would take into consideration that Montana is a “property rights state,” and emphasized recommendations would need to be voluntarily adopted.

Hrapla said development in clearance and accident-protection zones around runways have been factors in closures of military installations in other states.

The ultimate goal of the report is to raise awareness among decision-makers about military operations, Hrapla said.

“If there’s good information there, they can make better decisions,” he said.

Another idea being considered is establishing “military influence areas” with 4,000-foot buffers at each missile site.

A Cascade County-backed bill is expected to be introduced early next week in the Legislature. The bill would give rural counties the authority, if they chose, to approve height restrictions around missile sites and military installations. Airport authorities have similar regulatory powers, Briggs said. The bill is being proposed because most rural counties don’t have zoning and can’t pass height restrictions such as those recommended in the study.

Source:  KARL PUCKETT, Tribune Staff Writer, Great Falls Tribune, www.greatfallstribune.com 24 February 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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