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Navy asks Shore counties for land study

PRINCESS ANNE – The Navy wants to know future land uses for Somerset, Wicomico and eight other Maryland counties over which the military controls airspace.

The Patuxent River Naval Air Station has for years tested aircraft and trained personnel for military operations. But after almost 70 years at the installation across the Chesapeake Bay from Crisfield, the Navy wants the 10 counties within range of air station testing to participate in a land-use study that documents the compatibility of projects planned by both the counties and the military and impacting either.

Compatible land-use plans would be compiled into a strategic action report detailing community development and operations at the Naval Air Station.

The future of Patuxent, a busy military test center, could depend on findings as the military continues its new base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC process, that also could include some closings.

“(A joint plan) would promote compatible growth for all parties,” said Ben Shevchuk, a Patuxent official. “What’s the best possible future for communities and our mission – it could be a compromise.”

Wayne E. Clark, executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, is coordinating participation of counties in the Joint Land Use Study that could launch by September and extend more than a year and a half.

Five Eastern Shore counties are among the 10 asked to participate in the study, known as the JLUS. Caroline County has agreed to participate, and Dorchester County was scheduled to decide this week, Clark said. The Wicomico County Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal on May 1, he said.

Patuxent officials discussed the proposed study with Somerset County Commissioners on Tuesday, saying that participating counties would develop a chapter in a published report.

Christopher Jarboe, a team leader for Atlantic test ranges at Patuxent, said a separate study is under way to determine the impact of proposed Somerset County wind turbines on military radar at Patuxent.

The JLUS could trigger recommendations to relocate onshore wind farms currently proposed for the southwest side of the county. The effect of proposed onshore wind farms on air station radar equipment concerns the military, as Somerset officials court energy firms scouting the region to erect turbines 300 feet or taller.

“Will the wind turbines affect radar?,” Jarboe asked. “Folks who control radar say the answer is ‘yes.’ ”

Somerset County Commissioner Craig Mathies said he foresaw that JLUS results could force the county to rethink proposed wind farms.

“There will be a wind turbine impact,” Mathies said. “The study could have a significant impact on whether the county can proceed.”

The Department of Defense already has commissioned MIT to conduct a study of proposed turbine operations in Somerset. Gary Younger, Public Affairs Officer at Patuxent, said the MIT study would examine the effect of wind on the military radar.