Base Blues

Tentative recommendations regarding Davis-Monthan don't address one hot-button topic

The draft recommendations of three Military Community Compatibility Committee subcommittees, presented at a meeting last week, included everything from disseminating more information about existing military overflights to considering the eventual relocation of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

What the tentative list of suggestions prepared by the citizens' group didn't include, though, was a position on the contentious issue that many people insist be addressed--the number of planes now flying over metropolitan Tucson.

"Do the recommendations of the MC3 reduce DM air traffic," Robin Gomez asks in an e-mail message, "and hence (reduce) noise, health and safety risks, over the central city and neighborhoods now and in the future?"

The committee's D-M operations working group instead concluded: "While we have talked at length about issues related to missions both current and in the future, we are unable to come to consensus regarding recommendations that would limit missions."

What the group did agree on, reports Pima County government representative Arlan Colton, is a series of suggestions which could reduce noise levels by small amounts. A week ago, speaking to an audience of about 60 people which included homeowners, members of the D-M 50 lobbying group and many committee members, Colton outlined his group's proposals.

These ideas include increasing the height of military aircraft flying over the city while also pushing the touchdown area on D-M's runway farther southeast--an expensive idea to accomplish since it would require rebuilding a portion of the landing strip. Also listed were altering the flight path, for about 5 percent of the planes, to have them follow the Union Pacific railroad tracks instead of flying over the center of the city.

Redirecting as many night missions as possible to the less urbanized southeast approach to the runway is also being proposed. Acknowledging all these ideas were small steps to reducing noise over the center of Tucson, Colton summarizes: "There is no silver bullet."

The two most intriguing proposals made about D-M operations concerned relocating the pattern training of flights--those circling and landing maneuvers frequently seen above the city--as well as the future location of the facility itself.

"A new base could be decades out," Colton says. "But we have to start thinking now about the property for it, because you don't want the land to go away. Then you'd be stuck as land gets eaten up by development."

Gail Cordy, a committee member representing her midtown neighborhood, hopes the proposed steps are implemented. "If all the operation recommendations are accepted, they'll address the noise issue. Raising the elevation of the flights would have the biggest impact where I live, while shifting the pattern work would relieve it on other neighborhoods."

Along with noise, Cordy and some other central city residents have long complained about the impact D-M has on their homes' value. This concern was amplified a few years ago when the city of Tucson adopted stringent land-use regulations affecting property off both ends of the D-M runway. For noise levels, these land-use rules impact an area determined by using a hypothetical change in missions for D-M from the relatively quiet A-10 to a plane which will be "much noisier."

Pointing out a government study also stated residential uses were "incompatible" near a military airfield, Cordy says: "That's bound to have an effect on homeowners. People don't pay extra for the 'sound of freedom.'"

The incompatibility issue as manifested through zoning regulations, however, wasn't addressed by the recommendations from the committee's land-use working group. "We had discussions about it," admits Priscilla Storm, an employee of Diamond Ventures, "but it did not move forward. There was a sense (that) as the land-use regulations relate to the southeast end of the runway, they are beneficial."

What the group did recommend was the elimination in high-noise zones of the mandatory building requirement for sound attenuation in new construction. At the same time, they proposed funding for a voluntary sound attenuation program for these same properties.

The group also wants to see owners of vacant property adversely affected by land-use regulations to be able to transfer their development rights to other locations. Storm additionally says there are both county and state programs in place with limited revenues to acquire some land negatively impacted by D-M, and observes the Cross Point Church in Rita Ranch has recently received funding from the state program.

While there was considerable public interest in both the operations and land-use ideas presented at the meeting, few commented on suggestions to improve communications between D-M and the community.

"(Communications) don't impact people's quality of life or property valves," notes Bill DuPont, a committee member who lives near D-M. "But we need to start the ball rolling. Why, the base number to call with questions (228-5091) isn't even in the phone book."

Along with written public comments, all the draft recommendations presented at last week's meeting will be considered by the full committee on June 14. After that, a consensus report will be prepared and sent to decision makers.

According to some of those in attendance, the suggestions will be meaningless verbiage without implementation. Since that is dependent upon politicians and military officials, the results of the nine-month effort may not be known for years.

Summarizing this wait-and-see sentiment, Cordy says: "This process will have been worth it if the recommendations are implemented. If nothing is implemented on flight patterns or noise levels, we haven't done our job."