Votes in two states on Tuesday centered on protecting military bases from encroachment. One here at home was pre-emptive in nature while one in Washington state was reactive.
Residents in Spokane County, Wash., narrowly rejected a temporary property tax hike designed to remove low-income housing that’s affecting what the Air Force terms the Accident Potential Zone at the end of the Fairchild Air Force Base runway.
Preliminary election results show that Proposition 1 went down to defeat with 51.2 percent of the more than 111,000 voters opting against the temporary tax, which would have generated $18 million over nine years to buy seven mobile home parks – fewer than 200 units altogether – and move residents out of the danger zone.
This is the very definition of encroachment. The mobile homes may not have been seen as encroaching on Air Force operations at Fairchild when they were approved, but they certainly are now.
We have encroachment issues of our own as they relate to Travis Air Force Base, which provides an estimated $1.6 billion annual boost to the region’s economy. It’s by far the region’s largest single employer, and helps keep any number of contractors and vendors in the financial black. The base benefits local businesses as members of the Air Force spend their money on various goods and services.
Massive electricity-generating wind turbines and solar arrays for the past several years caused concern for Travis officials. Most of those issues appear to have been resolved to the Air Force’s satisfaction. Now there’s the issue of adding wind turbines and solar arrays near the base’s new Assault Landing Zone – that area over which pilots fly their massive aircraft while practicing to land in a combat zone.
The threat is real, and it’s new.
The Air Force this year completed a multimillion-dollar project at Travis to replace one of its existing runways and to build a new landing zone to allow C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to practice landing on shorter runways. The latter is dubbed the Assault Landing Zone.
Crews from Travis and other California bases no longer have to fly to central Washington to complete this critical training. Base officials have estimated the Travis training zone will save the Air Force some $7.8 million a year in fuel and related costs.
But only so long as it’s operational. That’s where threats of encroachment become critical.
Air Force officials want the county to establish a 200-foot height limit for the area north of Highway 12 and the area east of the base. The height limit is important because electricity-generating wind turbines in the county, south of Highway 12 in the Montezuma Hills, are 400 feet from the base to the extended vertical tip of the blades.
If such structures – including cellphone towers – are built in this area, it will increase the minimum flying altitude for training at the new assault runway. That’s a bad thing because lower-level approaches tend to more accurately simulate those required in combat zones.
We called in mid-October for the Board of Supervisors to take swift and decisive action to protect the base from possible encroachment in this critical area. To their credit, they did so this week by imposing a 45-day moratorium on such projects near Travis. The vote sets the stage for a two-year moratorium as the county studies how these and similar projects affect operations at the base and in the agricultural sector.
Those in the energy business argued against a moratorium, citing the need to review projects on a case-by-case basis in cooperation with Air Force officials. That’s likely the process used to locate the mobile home parks near the end of the Fairchild base’s runway.
Supervisor Jim Spering was correct when he spoke Tuesday about the nature of base encroachment. “Encroachment is incremental,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s one little project and another little project and all of a sudden, it’s a problem.”
A vote that same day in Washington state shows, once something’s on the ground, it’s costly to remove – and the will may not exist to pay that cost to preserve the viability of the local base. We do not want to experience that here in Fairfield.