These days, it does not take a town crier to alert the community to the importance of the military in Beaufort County.
Furloughs for civilian workers on base due to federal budget cuts known as sequestration have for months driven home the economic impact of the county's three military installations.
Now come more furloughs after Congress failed to pass a funding bill, resulting in a partial federal government shutdown. At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, 291 employees suddenly had no work and no paychecks. Another 1,200 were sent home at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. "I'm pretty close to losing everything I've got," said one worker, making it easy to see the ripple effect the bases have on life throughout the area.
In times like these, the staggering figure of $1.2 billion, which the military pours into the local economy, becomes more real.
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And even with the mission of the air station scheduled to grow next year with the introduction of the new generation of fighter jets, concerns are in the air. Cost overruns and technical and production problems continue to plague the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. And the specter of future rounds of base realignments and closings is always in the air, although the Marine Corps is not expected to play a big role in the round set for 2015.
Against this backdrop, the value of a new land use study also is magnified. It seeks ways for the military, local governments and residents to cooperate for the benefit of all.
Another round of a Joint Land Use Study was announced last week. It follows one adopted in 2004 as part of a nationwide program.
The goal is to get local governments (Beaufort County, the city of Beaufort and the town of Port Royal) and the state to work closely with the military bases to identify -- and suggest specific ways to meet -- the needs of both the military and local residents and businesses. Among the factors to be considered are airspace and land restrictions, noise, urban growth, the environment and security.
Local officials would then have to take action on recommendations, such as zoning changes. But all of the local governments and the military will be at the table refining recommendations. The process is coordinated by the Lowcountry Council of Governments. It seeks to hammer out short-, medium- and long-term projects. Each recommendation is expected to state who is responsible for making it happen, as well as what it will cost and where the money will come from.
The previous study resulted in zoning amendments and a transfer-of-development-rights program as ways to keep development from encroaching on the air station.
Another thing the previous study brought was an opportunity for citizen input during several workshops. We urge the public to pay attention and again get involved.
It's one thing to pass resolutions supporting the military. It's another to put action behind the commitment. The Joint Land Use Study is an opportunity no one should miss.