The study is in and the findings confirm what common sense tells us – that rows and rows of towering, spinning wind turbines pose a challenge to Navy flight training. And it just so happens that an 86-turbine wind farm is in the early stages of construction on the southern edge of this city that has been home to naval air training since before we entered World War II.
Luckily, the wind farm developer has no choice but to work with the Navy to lessen the impact. The main concern about wind turbines is not that low-flying pilots might run into them. It’s that they confuse radar monitoring. The remedies mainly involve all sorts of radar upgrades, but also can include special air traffic rules for our little corner of the world. It’s a relief that these steps can be taken.
But the big attraction of this little corner of the world to the military as a site for flight training has always been its abundance of unencumbered airspace. That and the community’s enthusiasm for the military influenced several decisions since WWII not to close Naval Air Stations Corpus Christi and Kingsville. So, while it’s great that the challenges posed by wind farms can be mitigated, common sense tells us that having to expend the effort is bound to figure into the Navy’s long-range decision-making.
The question for city leaders is what are they going to do to help.
In 2014 the City Council decided to annex 16 square miles of Chapman Ranch, partly because the city is expected to grow in that direction anyway, but also to give the city some regulatory leverage in hopes of protecting the flight training mission. It was a controversial move but the council at the time was behind it solidly.
Then in August the council undermined the annexation decision, voting 5-4 against spending $14 million in water and wastewater infrastructure that was a requirement to affirm the annexation. The council’s dynamics had changed with the 2014 election and the group that voted in August was more interested in saving or redirecting the money than with saving the base. At the time, the Navy’s wind turbine study was known to be under way. Councilwoman Carolyn Vaughn said at the time that if it found no problems with wind turbines, she’d move to de-annex, but if the study said turbines posed a problem, she’d seek to reverse the decision to kill the $14 million project.
Well, here we are. The study says turbines pose risks to flight training. Vaughn was re-elected in November but five of the nine council members are new. Two of the other four, Michael Hunter and Lucy Rubio, voted with her in August to put the city on the path to de-annexation.
Based on what Vaughn said in August and on the pride she takes in keeping her word – one of her most endearing qualities – her path ahead seems clear. The question is whether she can bring the other council members along with her. It’s our hope that they already can see the need to follow through with annexation, without Vaughn having to lead them there. But this is an opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, for her to lead. We hope she does.
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