Military Bases Want More Say on Development

Soldiers on a shooting range at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.
Soldiers on a shooting range at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.

In the past two-and-a-half years, Cpt. Mark McLaughlin began to feel as if his U.S. Navy jet base south of Corpus Christi was being quietly surrounded.

If something was not done soon, McLaughlin said he thought, Naval Air Station Kingsville, one of the Navy’s two jet bases, might someday be unable to perform its duties and could potentially close.

It’s not an enemy force prompting this career military man to worry over holding his position, though. It's a group South Texas wind farms.

“I am dealing with wind farm developers from multiple companies that are planning to encircle my base with upwards of 1,400 wind turbines,” McLaughlin told the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs on Wednesday.  “Currently, the lack of any formal or enforceable early notification means that I usually find out about a wind farm developer wanting to build something after they’ve already notified the FAA, which means they’ve already invested a lot of time, money and resources into their plan.”

McLaughlin and other representatives from Texas military bases asked legislators to require developers to involve military officials in the process before construction projects near their installations begin. 

McLaughlin said he worried that wind farm construction near the base could interfere with its radar system. The air station controls all of the air traffic over South Texas, McLaughlin said.

He told the committee that the base has good relations with Kingsville and with the wind farm developers, but he wished the law required more involvment of base officials in the planning process.

McLaughlin said other projects are also worrisome for the base, including a nursing home that developers are planning to build nearby, right outside of the air base's crash safety zone.

“You don’t want a jet to crash into a nursing home," he said.

During the last legislative session, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, introduced a bill that would give certain local governments more zoning authority around military land, but it failed. Larson, who attended the hearing, said issues concerning the safety of surrounding towns and the ability of a base to perform its missions are taken into consideration when the military considers closing bases.

But state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who is chairman of the committee and whose district is adjacent to the U.S. Army's massive Fort Bliss, said he was "not a big believer in more regulation."

“I would like less legislation if we could get cooperation,” Pickett said.

Military officials only want to be involved in the conversation about new projects, not to control what is being built, said David Snodgrass, deputy director of the Army’s Regional Environmental & Energy Office for Texas and eight other states.

“Our interest lies only with improving coordination and minimizing negative impact to training and operations,” Snodgrass said. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the services are trying to stop development.”

Michael Moore, a member of the Texas Association of Builders, urged the committee to remember to include private businesses in any discussion involving the regulation of private property rights. Moore said measures that restrict construction around bases would be short-sighted.

“I don’t think there’s been much real-life indication that in our construction industry we’ve encroached on military bases,” said Moore. 

Texas has currently has 14 permanent military bases. Seven are operated by the U.S. Air Force, four by the Army and three by the Navy. 

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