Friday, April 06, 2012

Buffer zones being actively expanded around military air bases: Municipalities around Langley asking for state money for land

HAMPTON — Localities throughout Hampton Roads have purchased hundreds of acres bordering military air bases to minimize the potential damage from crashes, such as the one that occured Friday afternoon in Virginia Beach, on the surrounding communities.

Peninsula officials have actively pushed to create a larger safety zone to the south and west of Langley Air Force base as a way to buffer development from encroaching into the landing and takeoff area around the base.

Langley is home to the U.S. Air Force's 1st Fighter Wing and the 480th Intelligence Wing.

A Joint Land Use Study finalized in 2010 by the four localities bordering Langley recommends spending about $12 million to purchase 31 acres to extend Langley's buffer zone. Hampton and Newport News, as well as Poquoson and York County have all asked for state and federal money to purchase those parcels.

Land in the extended buffer zone around Langley is located along Magruder Boulevard near the Hampton Roads Center North Campus.

Purchasing those 23 plots is also seen as a way to help stave off anticipated Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission closures by proving the base is safe for military objectives.

The paramount reason to purchase the land though, is to protect pilots and community surrounding the base, said Bruce Sturk, Hampton's director of federal facilities support.

In November 2011, Virginia Beach bought nearly 800 acres of farmland and woods to protect Naval Air Station Oceana from encroaching development. Officials there have said the city will commit $15 million annually to stop new development around Oceana.

"They have a model over there on how to work with the community, to work with the Navy base ... in the use of acquiring properties and putting them in a state of an appropriate type use for that facility," said Sturk, of Oceana. "It's a benchmark model and it's recognized as a national model."

It was unclear late Friday where the F/A-18 Hornet crashed in relation to Oceana's buffer zone.

"We've focused a fine tooth look at Langley and any potential encroachment to prevent and remove any current or future non-conforming uses for that land," Sturk said.


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