Officials Near End of Study to Protect Fort Bragg from 'Bad Neighbors'

Fort Bragg (U.S. Army photo)
Fort Bragg (U.S. Army photo)

There are good neighbors. And then there are bad neighbors.

For the nation's largest military installation, bad neighbors can be anything or anyone that threatens the ability of local soldiers to train by encroaching too closely to weapons ranges, flight paths or drop zones.

But officials are one step closer to finalizing a massive study spanning multiple counties that is the latest attempt at helping to better protect Fort Bragg from unwanted growth along its boundaries.

On Thursday, officials with the Regional Land Use Advisory Commission heard draft recommendations from the latest Joint Land Use Study.

The recommendations are aimed at protecting Fort Bragg for years to come, said Vagn Hansen of Benchmark Planning, the company that conducted the study on RLUAC's behalf. And they fall into four categories: regional coordination, compatible growth, environmental and actions Fort Bragg can pursue on its own.

Hansen briefly went over many of the recommendations to the commission ahead of similar presentations that will be made for local governments in the coming months. A final version of the study and its recommendations are expected to be available later this year.

The study area includes parts of several counties that are within five miles of Fort Bragg, as well as training flight paths.

Hansen said officials would use the information they've collected to identify areas that are "critical" and "important" to the military post's training mission. But it would be up to local governments and other groups to introduce policies and laws to discourage incompatible growth in those areas.

The "critical" areas include land closest to Fort Bragg's training ranges, as well as the land under unmanned aerial system flight paths, wildlife habitat connector areas and foraging areas for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Hansen said he would recommend that the RLUAC design tools to help local municipalities create ordinances to bolster the study and work with the state legislature, North Carolina Real Estate Commission and other groups when possible.

Other recommendations included noting military impacts to land in official property assessments and records, advocating for disclosure of military impacts to property during real estate transactions and supporting regional efforts to ensure the adequate supply and quality of drinking water sources.

The Joint Land Use Study, once complete, would be the area's fourth since 1988. It is funded by a grant from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment.

The first joint land use study came after unchecked growth had already threatened Fort Bragg.

In the 1980s, neighborhoods along the installation's southern edge forced the military to change how it trains at Fort Bragg.

Drop zones less than a mile from the new neighborhoods could no longer host heavy equipment drops. The skies over those training areas ceased to be filled with large groups of paratroopers laden with combat equipment.

As a result of the original study, RLUAC was created.

Today, the nonprofit organization is a group that includes planners and other government officials from Fort Bragg, the surrounding counties and municipalities and other organizations with an interest in the changing regional landscape.

In its latest meeting, the RLUAC also heard an update on another attempt to protect military installations in North Carolina.

Robert Hosford, the military liaison for the state Department of Agriculture, provided an update to the Sentinel Landscapes program.

The national initiative was formed in 2013 through a partnership between the departments of Defense, Agriculture and Interior.

Sentinel Landscapes protects land near high-value military installations across the nation, but Hosford said the North Carolina territory was by far the largest, consisting of 33 counties around Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and other military installations and training areas in the eastern part of the state.

Hosford said the program preserves land near military installations as habitat for endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker and maintains existing farms that are ideal neighbors for military training.

Farmers are good neighbors, he said. But "old folks' homes, Wal-Marts and strip malls" are bad neighbors.

Any of the latter could threaten training by forcing the military to limit noise, cease potentially dangerous activity or creating light pollution.

Hosford said the partnerships Fort Bragg created to protect its endangered species and limit encroachment were the first steps for Sentinel Landscapes.

"It really started here," Hosford said. "It began at Fort Bragg."

The program allows officials to enter into conservation agreements with landowners, who in turn are paid to not develop their land for 20 or 30 years.

Hosford said the landowners keep the water, hunting, farming, mineral and timber rights to their property, but give up their developmental rights for a time.

The program has protected tens of thousands of acres in that way, officials said, with more land consistently being added.

This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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