SB 377

Military Protection Act Deserves Fair Shake

May 11, 2019

Senate Bill 377 will protect NC military bases from wind turbine obstruction. Allies for Cherry Point

Can you define economic development in two words? Cut through the academic mumbo-jumbo … and economic development is “more jobs.”

One strategy is to retain existing jobs and leverage your assets to make more jobs. That’s hard work. Another strategy is to attract and recruit employers who vow to create new jobs. That’s even harder work. Much harder, in fact.

View North Carolina Senate Bill 377 from an economic development perspective. To set the stage: The primary sponsors of this bill include Sen. Harry Brown of Jacksonville in Onslow County and Sen. Norman Sanderson of Arapahoe in Pamlico County. Both are Republicans.

Sen. Brown’s district includes Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Air Station New River. Sen. Sanderson’s district includes Carteret and Craven counties. The major employer for residents in both of these counties is MCAS Cherry Point in Havelock.

S.B. 377 is being referred to as the “Military Base Protection Act.” It seeks to “prohibit construction, operation or expansion of wind energy facilities in areas of the state where impacts of vertical obstruction have been determined to be significantly high, with a high risk for degrading safety and the military’s ability to perform aviation training.”

Sen. Brown correctly notes that the “U.S. Department of Defense is the second largest sector of North Carolina’s economy,” trailing only agriculture. The military accounts for 12% of the state’s Gross Domestic Product.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce has calculated that the military provides 10% of all jobs statewide, with an annual economic impact of $66 billion. North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation in terms of the number of active duty military personnel and reservists. It’s an incredible reality … and one, pray tell, that is vastly under appreciated across much of the Old North State.

The North Carolina Military Affairs Commission (NCMAC) was established in 2013, and its primary goals are to “protect North Carolina’s existing military installations and missions and to expand defense related economic development in North Carolina.”

Achieving the first goal involves supporting all North Carolina’s existing military installations, infrastructure, training ranges and low level routes and ensuring they are protected “from encroachment or other initiatives that could degrade the military mission.” It is critical to “identify potential threats or problems and resolve them before they encroach on installations or adversely affect military training and other missions,” NCMAC contends.

Encroachment will be a major determining factor in the next BRAC, which would reactivate the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. (BRAC is not a true acronym, but the term is well understood in military circles.) BRAC will take an act of Congress, and military experts expect that day will come. As a result of BRAC, a military facility could lose possible additional assignments, have part of its mission reduced, have some of its responsibilities transferred to another facility … or face outright closure.

Sen. Brown has said that North Carolina’s military installations “are only as valuable as their ability to ensure the readiness of our service members, which is premised on their ability to train.” When that ability to train is diminished by commercial development and “incompatible use of the surrounding environs, our bases lose their value to the armed services they support,” he added.

“Why does it matter whether one of our installations loses value to the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force?” Sen. Brown asked. “That loss in value will be reflected in BRAC decision-making. All that matters to a BRAC commission is whether the military can continue to do its job at its current location. If an installation reports that its ability to train has been compromised, a BRAC commission will find somewhere else in the country for it to train.”

“The loss of any single installation in North Carolina would be devastating for its host community and county,” Sen. Brown commented. Eastern North Carolina would suffer acutely, and it “would reverberate across the state as a whole.”

There is no economic development project out there that can replace the loss of a military base, Sen. Brown remarked, and the devastation would “be felt for generations in the future.”

The sustainability of military bases within North Carolina is clearly the responsibility of the state legislature, according to Sen. Brown. “We would be utterly negligent if we didn’t approach this with a BRAC mindset,” he asserted.

The “BRAC mindset” that Sen. Brown describes is essentially an attitude that is embraced throughout eastern North Carolina — to do whatever it takes to ensure we continue to hear the “sound of freedom” in our skies … and to spread the word that we would willingly accept “more of it.”

By proactively defending our bases, we also lay down an aggressive offensive strategy, one that is designed to accomplish NCMAC’s second goal.

That is to leverage our military assets to prove that eastern North Carolina is worthy of receiving “mission growth.” This is a place where people are both willing and able to greet, welcome, accommodate, embrace and nurture more warriors and their families. Oorah!

Mike Wagoner is a retired chamber of commerce executive and a public relations counselor.     Blog: