News: Eastern NC, Marine Corps land partnership thrives through years of shared support
Story by Cpl. Tyler J. Bolken
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – They say, “If you build it, they will come.” And though that may or may not be true of a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, it is definitely true of a military base, especially when it is built near now-coveted locations like a coastline.
Cherry Point has been no exception – since the air station’s inception in the early 1940s in the middle of woods, marsh and farmland, the area around it has slowly become home to thriving communities.
When Cherry Point was first constructed adjacent to the budding community of Havelock, it probably never occurred to the farmers, fishermen, hunters or other local residents, nor to the Marines who began operating a military air station, that someday they might be jostling for space. And the idea that their proximity to the day-to-day operations of a heavily armed military airport could be hazardous was probably as foreign to them as the invaders the Marines were training to fight in the faraway Pacific.
But over time, as military air stations and civilian airports around the country experienced more and more crowding with the communities that grew up around them, one thing became abundantly clear – it is inherently dangerous for people to build homes and businesses under the flight paths of arriving and departing aircraft.
The challenge for Cherry Point then became: how do you protect those people – not only from our flight operations, but from themselves? Every savvy businessman knows that money flows out the front gate like a swollen river, so building your business and hanging your shingle as close as you can to the source of that river seems like a great idea. The associated aircraft noise and the risk of an aircraft accident seem like far lower priorities – but not to the military and city officials who see the need to protect their citizens.
“The key is to be good stewards every day with development that occurs,” says Tyler Harris, the Cherry Point community plans and liaison officer, who consults and coordinates with local elected officials, city and county planners and managers daily regarding community issues including new or pending construction that could negatively impact the air station by putting local citizens at unnecessary risk. “Through being vigilant and consistent, public health and safety are our top priorities.”
A booming business of warfighting Marine aviation operates inside the air station’s fence line, but a thriving civilian community complete with schools, restaurants and other businesses is only a stone’s throw away. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill makeup of small town USA. It calls for a cheek-to-cheek relationship with heavily-armed jets, and heavy-duty airplanes and helicopters.
Worries of encroachment on military operations in eastern North Carolina essentially didn’t exist 50 or 60 years ago, explains George Radford, director of the Cherry Point Environmental Affairs Department, whose experience with encroachment and environmental issues here dates back to 1988. But, adds Radford, over time it became clear that solutions were needed to create safety buffers around the air station and its associated outlying airfields.
Solutions include cooperative agreements and legislation that make it easier to avoid the standard pitfalls created by up-and-coming communities surrounding active airfields, all while providing other, more subtle benefits to the community.
“We’ve used partnerships with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust and several other environmental organizations with the mission to protect environmental interests,” says Radford. Through these relationships, the air station and the Navy have purchased property or protective easements to shield citizens from potential mishaps, all while providing additional protections for the environment.
The blueprint for both parties’ encroachment policies centralizes on Cherry Point’s Air Installations Compatible Use Zones program, which is an active command effort at Cherry Point to work with local, state, regional, and other federal agencies and community leaders to encourage compatible development of land adjacent to our airfields. These zones are areas where there are high volumes of aviation operations, accident potential zones and noise contours, explains Harris, who manages the AICUZ program here.
Cherry Point has responsibilities reaching far beyond its main complex here – it has outlying airfields, an auxiliary landing field and bombing ranges peppered throughout eastern North Carolina – each of which has its own encroachment challenges. These off-base land purchases and property easements exist amid concentrations of timber, wetlands, farmland and coastlines preserving wildlife for future generations of campers, fishermen and family outings.
It is tempting for landowners to financially capitalize on coastline or high market value property, says Radford, but some landowners have demonstrated that there can be long-lasting mutual benefits from easement agreements between the Marine Corps and members of the community.
“The Guthrie Farm off U.S. Highway 24, they grow Bogue Sound watermelons, they have for years,” says Radford of a family that chose to sell restrictive easements for their property instead of selling it for development that would be incompatible with Cherry Point’s Bogue Field flight operations. “They had the desire to keep it as a farm into the future, which is definitely compatible with us. It was win-win for both parties.”
The easements are aimed at protecting endangered species, rare plants, natural coastal settings, water quality, and, in this example, the Guthries protect a family legacy, while agreeing that residential dwellings and hazardous aviation obstructions like cell phone towers or wind turbines will not be built on these properties. The property owner keeps and farms the land, but sells certain property rights to protect local fliers as well as the environment.
In areas that are not suitable for purchase, other tools are used to protect the public. Through cooperation with local government, zoning legislation is created to prevent incompatible development and construction in danger zones, again with the goal of protecting the public. Other legislation requires disclosures of real estate proximity within the airfields’ noise and accident potential zones, an effort championed by Harris for eight years now, this with the goal of ensuring citizens are aware of the potential risks and of the higher levels of noise associated with military aircraft here. “It’s about always being ahead of the game and always working together as we have learned to do for many years,” Harris explains.
To anyone who is actually paying attention, Cherry Point, its surrounding training areas and the communities that have grown up around them are all parts of one giant community that must watch out for each other to survive – something that people here figured out a long time ago.
This work, Eastern NC, Marine Corps land partnership thrives through years of shared support, by Sgt Tyler J. Bolken, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.