Military Bases, Training Ranges Threatened by Civil Suits

Article excerpt

The Dallas Morning News reported on April 3, 2001, "a group of West Texas ranchers mad farmers filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that the U.S. Air Force is damaging their property with noisy low-level training flights that feel more like earthquakes."

This is not limited to Texas or the Air Force. All the Services are facing similar confrontations with civilian activists and neighbors who claim reduced enjoyment and value of their property due to near constant noise from live weaponry training or jets flying overhead. At Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach nine property owners and a group calling itself "Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise" from Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, filed suit against the Navy over jet noise. In Southern California neighbors of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar are protesting noise from the up-tempo of helicopter flight activity.

In March, Army Major General Antwerp, assistant chief of staff for installation management, testified before a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support of the Committee on Armed Services. "When our installations were established, they generally were in rural areas, remote and isolated from populations," he said. "Army installations ... are now often [found] in the midst of large urban areas."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld during his January Senate confirmation hearing stated, "The United States needs bases. It needs ranges. It needs test ranges. And it cannot provide the training and the testing that people need before they go into battle unless those kinds of facilities are available. And each year that goes by, there are greater and greater pressures on them."

So why all the clamor, and why now? Military bases are not new to the urban landscape. What is new are residential subdivisions, schools, hotels, and day-care centers popping-up like weeds in the most unlikely of places, such as in designated accident potential zones at the ends of airport runways or in areas subject to invasive unacceptable noise levels.

Local elected officials seem powerless to prevent or redirect these sensitive land uses away from noisy, accident-prone areas. Often elected leaders receive either poor advice from land developers or are threatened with lawsuit if there is any attempt to regulate their use of property. The result often is exposure of future residents to noisy, almost intolerable living conditions. Little wonder civil suits are being filed against the military at an alarming rate.

Military bases have long been recognized as the engines that help drive local economies. They have always drawn people and businesses closer to the fence-line to take advantage of job opportunities and the demand for the goods and services.

As new residents and commercial activities cluster closer and closer to military bases and operations, land use conflicts are bound to arise. Around the Pentagon this is known as "encroachment." Encroachment can negatively impact training just as noise, dust, and ground disturbances can negatively impact nearby neighbors.

Encroachment occurs when incompatible civilian activities get too close and disrupt training missions. It does not mean all land use activities are incompatible. Some commercial and industrial activities can be and often are compatible and present no problem to the military or its operations. It's encroachment of incompatible development that is of concern to the Defense Department.

The Defense Department believes there is a solution to this dilemma. The Office of the Secretary of Defense supports and encourages joint, cooperative military and community planning. The hope is that cooperative planning can anticipate, identify and prevent encroachment.

The Department supports several programs designed to provide technical data and information on the impact of military operations that local leaders can use to prevent urban encroachment while promoting sound community economic growth. …