By John Savich
ST. MARY'S COUNTY, Md. - In July, 2006, the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance established an Encroachment Study Committee to help the community evaluate potential actions that would reduce the threat of encroachment to Department of Defense activities at NAS Patuxent River and Webster Field. The committee's report was released last month. Its specific recommendations have been covered in the press. They include recommendations to improve planning between the community and the Navy, zoning changes to prevent future encroachment around both Pax River and Webster Field, and an effort to evaluate multi-state encroachment issues for the states under the Pax River airspace. The details are beyond the scope of this short column, but the objective is clear: to build on the success encroachment protections of the past to ensure an effective environment for future Navy and DOD operations. St. Mary's County will be a leader in 21st-century encroachment protection, just as it was in the 20th century. Implementation of the recommendations has already begun.
Encroachment can involve anything that limits the operational effectiveness of the military facility. That could include reduced usage days, prohibition of certain training or testing events, reduced range access, reduced realism for training or testing, limitations on use of new technologies, etc. Issues such as light pollution, frequency interference, and environmental impacts must be considered along with the fundamental emphasis on accident potential and noise. Community requirements must anticipate changing technology, particularly for a mission-critical facility in a growing community.
How did we get here? In 1977, St. Mary's County stepped forward as the first jurisdiction in the country to establish an Air Installations Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) in its local zoning ordinance. In the years since then, the county has continued to be vigilant in protecting the air space around NAS Patuxent River. A strong working relationship with the Navy incorporates Navy review of every development proposal in or near the AICUZ. Nevertheless, as naval aviation technology has advanced, a broader range of encroachment concerns have emerged, calling for a new generation of encroachment protection.
Although the AICUZ was established almost 30 years ago, it encompassed pre-existing development that was non-compliant but 'grandfathered' at the time. The most notable conflict was the Lexington Manor development, 342 duplex units right across the road from the main gate and directly under the approach path to the main runway in Accident Potential Zone2.
That conflict has been resolved. All the residents were relocated to better housing. If you have driven by lately, you know that all of the structures have been demolished, except for the two we are preserving under an agreement with the Maryland Historic Trust. The southern 50 acres will remain as recreational open space, eliminating any encroachment threat from development. The northern 34-acre parcel will be redeveloped for commercial use. However, the County has imposed higher standards than those required by AICUZ by prohibiting any future residential development on this property.
If you would like a copy of the encroachment study committee's report, call the Department of Economic and Community Development at 301.475.4200, ext 1400. St. Mary's County is committed to a long future as the home of naval aviation.