You don’t mess around with the Navy.
That’s been the guiding principle for Corpus Christi elected officials since Naval Air Station Corpus Christi opened in 1941.
The base has just meant too much to the local economy in terms of payrolls, local contracts and employment to ever give Navy decision-makers any reason to consider moving.
But the go-ahead for a wind turbine farm south of the city, if base defenders fears pan out, might be the opening for the Navy to say adios.
Or the wind turbine farm could have no impact on air activities as the Federal Aviation Administration determined and as wind farm developers and landowners argue.
For most of the city’s modern economic history, any threat, or even perceived threat, to the Navy base would be quickly removed by the powers in charge. That’s how big a key, especially in tough economic times, the base was.
Maybe it’s a sign of how diversified the city’s economy has become that the wind farm project has gotten as far as it has. The Eagle Ford bounty, the new industry arriving, the growth of the university, maybe the Navy base just seems like another cog in the economic wheel.
That’s a cog worth $5.3 billion to the Texas economy. That’s the value that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar put on the Navy base, its chief tenant, Corpus Christi Army Depot, and Naval Air Station Kingsville.
The Corpus Christi City Council tried to strangle the wind farm in its crib.
The city passed a resolution in 2014 opposing the wind farm and then later annexed 16 square miles of Chapman Ranch south of the city. That move was aimed to squelch the wind farm, which would be located on the property, or to control it by virtue of the city’s regulation powers.
The city might have over time annexed land south of Oso Creek, now the city’s natural boundary to the south, since the city’s growth is in that direction. But the threat of the wind farm accelerated the move.
That has put the city in the awkward situation of having 16 square miles of rural land for which it had no plans for services.
But the move did cause Apex Clean Energy, the developers, to change their project from 175 turbines on 31-square miles to 86 turbines on about 27 square miles, none of them on the annexed land.
Neither the downsizing nor the findings of the FAA has lessened the fears of those who are skittish about the wind farm.
Speaking of talk on the council to deannex the land, Council woman Colleen McIntyre said, “That could put us at risk for a base closure and potentially the loss of thousands of jobs.”
Maybe those fears persist because this area has lost bases before. Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville and Naval Station Ingleside no longer exist, despite the best efforts by local officials to save them.
This past week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz visited the base and conferred with Mayor Nelda Martinez about the issue of the wind farm. Cruz has sponsored an amendment that would require government review of the impact of energy projects, including wind farms on military installations.
NAS Corpus Christi has many tenants: the Army repair depot, federal agencies, the Coast Guard, as well as Navy air training wings. But by one measure the most important office, though not the largest, on the base is that of the Chief of Naval Air Training. That post is manned by Rear Adm. Dell “Snapper” Bull.
The admiral has asked Navy researchers to look into the effects of wind turbines on naval flight training. The report is due in October. Martinez has said the report is crucial to the council’s stance.
But this week a majority of the City Council seemed ready to abandon its opposition even before the Navy’s report.
In a 5-4 vote, the council pulled out of its proposed capital projects a water line and wastewater line that would have gone in the annexed area.
More wind farms seem sure to come. But if the Navy report is negative on wind farms, local officials will find themselves in a quandary – with this caveat. The FAA has no bases to close down. The Navy does.
If the wind farm develops, local landowners will use their land as they wish, the wind turbine industry widens its footprint and more clean energy gets produced.
But do you put military bases that are valued at $5 billion at risk for the sake of a wind farm?
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