The issue of windmill farms and potential effects on air training around military bases such as Cherry Point remains up in the air in the General Assembly, with several proposals from various lawmakers.
One recent House bill that would have banned wind farms within a 30-mile radius of military installations didn’t make it out of committee, although the bill could be re-introduced.
A Senate bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, calls for a two-year moratorium on wind farm permits to allow for a second study of the impacts the farms have on military training air space.
Sanderson and Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, both believe that a Republican administration in the White House and a Republican majority in Congress would allow more access to military opinions on the actual impacts and locations of the affected training areas.
Both of those lawmakers, along with George Graham, D-Lenoir, favor a balanced solution to accommodate the military and protect the rights of property owners who stand to make money leasing land for the farms, which can have wind mills 500 feet in height.
“We need to once and for all determine where we need to restrict these wind turbines as it affects the flight patterns,” Sanderson said of Senate Bill 331, also sponsored by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, and Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne. Brown is the Senate majority leader and Pate is deputy president pro tempore.
The bill is currently in the commerce and insurance committee, with a planned referral to appropriations and base budget before heading to the Senate floor. The bill allocates $50,000 for the new study, with a moratorium expiration date of Dec. 31, 2020.
Sanderson said changes at the top of the federal government food chain would enhance chances to get all the information needed so rules can be defined.
“I think it is definitely going to change,” he said. “What we have seen for the past eight years has more or less a gag order on the military, especially the base commanders. There is going to be a lot more willingness on the part of these commanders to step up and take an active part in this permitting process.”
He attributed the lack of information from the military to the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“When you have a commander in chief that is really, really open to alternative energy – wind energy being one, solar being one – it is hard as a military commander to speak sometimes what you really believe,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson said the issue is critical, considering a possible 2018 Base Realignment and Closure process that could look at base and training area encroachment as reasons to close a location.
“If you really want to put a damper on Marine bases like Cherry Point, then take away their ability to train,” he said. “And, with these new planes (F-35s) coming to Cherry Point, if they can’t train, they may just go somewhere else.”
Speciale said this week that both the military and land owners must be considered in any legislation.
“My stance is I want to protect our military, whatever that means,” he said. “I also want to protect private property rights, so there has got to be a balance.”
He said there had been bills dating back several years “that went overboard. There was one submitted by the Senate that basically wouldn’t have allowed anything for miles and miles and miles. I don’t know what the parameters were, but the bottom line is there has to be a happy medium between protecting the military and protecting private property rights. If a man has a piece of property and can make money off of it, he has the right to do so.”
He said the many bills are all different.
“You have to read every bill and look at everything in the bill and deal with it one day at a time,” Speciale said.
Special did not have any specific number as to distance from military installations he was comfortable with where wind farms would not be allowed.
“Show me the evidence, and then see what the military has to say,” he said.
Speciale agreed that in recent years, information was not easy to get high-ranking opinions from the military.
“But, hopefully that has changed under (President) Trump and we will get some cooperation,” he said. “It is important that we interact with them to find out what is going on.”
House Bill 470 – which would have put severe restrictions on wind farms including a 30-mile ban around military bases – failed to make it through a House committee recently.
But, Speciale noted that the bill is not dead and can be revived. He added that he did not foresee that bill would come back during the 2017 regular session, which has a July 4 target date for completion, with the focus on finishing a new state budget.
Sanderson agreed that both the military and the public must be served in the ultimate wind farm decision.
“I know there is a fine line between property rights and national defense, and we are looking for the balance,” he said.
Sanderson lives near the Neuse River in the Minnesott Beach area of Pamlico County.
“I live right across the river from the runway at Cherry Point,” Sanderson said. “I know that even though I own this piece of property that I am standing on, would I put up a 500-foot tower? No, I wouldn’t, so I know that living in proximity of these bases and these training areas, it does help you understand which is the most important.”
Graham also offered an opinion tempered in military needs.
“We are going to do everything we can to protect our military bases. There is no question about that,” he said. “It is part of our basic economy of this part of the state.”
Cherry Point alone provides a $2 billion economic impact on the region, with areas such as Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro also contributing to the economy in Eastern North Carolina.
Graham also did not offer a suggestion on a distance ban around bases.
As for property owners, he thinks compensation could be a solution. His list included “some other projects, some other jobs.” He said monetary compensation was another possibility.
Currently, there are no wind farms in either Craven or Pamlico counties, although both have ordinances that regulate tall structures.
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