Protecting the air station requires continuing effort

April 1, 2010 

Property owners near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort got a fresh look at an old issue last week: Controlling development around the air station.

Now it's time for action.

Consultants revealed the latest thinking on how to compensate landowners who would give up their development rights for the good of the air station. About 30 residents took advantage of the public meeting to see the first draft of a "transfer of development rights" program.

We know this is tricky. How do you value development rights? What if there's no market for them? Where does the money come from? Who oversees the process?

At the same time, we all must appreciate what's at stake.

The air station is a pillar of the community, economically, socially and historically. For it to remain a plum asset for America's military readiness, development cannot be allowed to encroach too close to it.

We can look to the Naval Air Station Oceana in the Virginia Beach area to see the problems that can arise with encroachment -- noise complaints, safety fears, lawsuits and the threat of base closure. That busy air station was in a rural area when it opened in 1940, but that is far from the case today.

Beaufort County can avoid problems by acting now.

A lot has been done.

Beaufort County, the city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal in 2006 adopted the Air Installations Compatibility Use Zone, a zoning that limits the development of hospitals, schools, multifamily housing or residential density greater than two homes per acre. It covers 13,000 acres deemed to be most affected by aircraft noise and most at-risk for an accident.

Easements and land purchases also have been part of the solution.

The air station has worked with the county to preserve some

400 acres around the air station in recent years to limit the number of people living there.

Military leaders have been talking about the need to tightly control encroachment for 20 years.

For local leaders, that demands continual action. For local residents, that requires some sacrifices. The transfer of development rights is one of many tools available to protect the viability of the air station. Last week's update is appreciated. We're eager for further action.

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