Fairchild Air Force Base needs civilian protection to survive, local government officials were told this week.
Spokane County officials asked leaders in Airway Heights, Spokane and Medical Lake to join them in implementing recommendations from a two-year land-use study.
The study calls for the cities and the county to prevent dense development around the base. They control the surrounding land, or soon will under planned annexations, and all of them participated in the county-led study.
Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan summarized the threat to Fairchild Air Force Base succinctly: “Encroachment will kill it.”
The threat to local governments is that Fairchild is the largest employer in the county. When the study began two years ago, the base represented a $1.2 billion share of Spokane County’s economy.
County Commissioner Bonnie Mager, who headed the study steering committee, called for the county and each affected city to establish a new committee to implement the Joint Land Use Study that was completed in December.
The new “coordinating committee” would be responsible for developing regulations to implement the study goals. Mager called for a model ordinance, “so we’re all on the same page.”
The five-member panel would include a representative of Fairchild Air Force Base and one elected official each for Spokane County, Spokane, Airway Heights and Medical Lake.
Some of the challenges may be more political than technical.
County Planning Director John Pederson said a previous study was never implemented because of “lack of foresight and planning in the past.”
He acknowledged a problem developed when county commissioners opened light industrial zones to housing, but said the action was quickly reversed. Pederson said Fairchild generally has been well protected by low-density rural and light industrial zoning, but more is needed.
The new study outlines numerous strategies for protecting Fairchild from encroachment, but Pederson said officials don’t have to follow all of them. He suggested starting with “some low-hanging fruit,” such as adopting the military crash zone standards the Pentagon looks for when deciding whether to retain a base.
Recommendations of the new study are spread among four “military influence areas.”
The first, dubbed MIA 1, is aimed at political cooperation and includes all of Spokane County.
MIA 2 extends about 5.7 miles from the Fairchild’s runway and focuses on issues such as night lighting, bird control and noise warnings.
MIA 3 is a noise zone based on a technical analysis that allowed for the possibility of B-52 bombers returning to the base. It would require extra insulation in new buildings or other mitigation to reduce complaints about 65-decibel aircraft noise.
MIA 4 includes land close to the base, where uses would be restricted and noise mitigation would be based on levels estimated at 70 decibels or more.
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