Cascade County Position Re: East End Development

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Received an e-mail from Joe Briggs, one of the Cascade County Commissioners, and he included the official statement of the Commission regarding the “Guidelines For East End Commercial And Residential Development.” He gave me permission to post it here, so anyone who is interested in this issue can read it. Thank you, Joe.

Testimony of the Cascade County Commission to the Great Falls City Commission
Presented by Commissioner Joe Briggs

December 19, 2006

“Guidelines for East End Commercial and Residential Development”

1) The staff report complied by the City of Great Falls alludes to the Cascade County Growth Policy regarding the APZs but does not actually state our position nor reference our opposition to this proposed set of guidelines. The County’s position as stated in the Growth policy is as follows, page 33 item 15 under Policy statements:
“Given the importance of Malmstrom AFB to the economic vitality of the region, the potential reduction in Minuteman forces and the potential value of future flying missions at MAFB, it is vital for Cascade County to actively pursue the reopening of the MAFB runway. These efforts should include, but are not limited to, protecting the runway’s Accident Potential Zones, as described in the 1994 Malmstrom AFB AICUZ Study, from encroachment by any non-compatible land uses.”

Accordingly, Cascade County opposes any policy which would allow for development of non conforming uses within the APZ zones at Malmstrom AFB. We would note that the adoption of this proposed document by the City of Great Falls would be in direct conflict with existing Cascade County land use policy for the area in question. We would also point out that contrary to what is presented in your staff report, the county has now through its growth policy officially recognized the APZ and is moving forward with specific zoning regulations to protect the APZ.

2) The County recognizes the difficult position this issue of development in the APZ places on the City of Great Falls. We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our willingness to join the City in purchasing the land or development rights necessary to protect the APZ from non-conforming development.

We have in fact secured authorization from the State of Montana Commerce Department to utilize the remaining $90,000 dollars appropriated by the legislature last session for the purpose of purchasing the land or development rights in the APZ.

3) Given the City of Great Falls’ recently announced interest in preserving open space, a joint effort to purchase the lands in the APZ would seem to be an opportunity to address two issues at the same time.

4) In addition to the above referenced general objections to the plan, we also offer the follow specific concerns to the plan as written.

a. The plan seems to be written based upon the notion that the 1100’ width required in 1958 for prop aircraft is adequate for modern jet. This assumption is simply not correct. It is our understanding that the Air Force and DOD utilize only two APZ footprints, one for prop driven aircraft and the one for jet aircraft. It is also our understanding any encroachment within 1500’ perpendicular to the runway centerline endangers the future use of the runway by any branch of the DOD for jet aircraft.

While the lack of development in the area surrounding the old clear zone did not require the Air Force to purchase additional lands when the APZ was expanded after 1958, but that does not mean the APZ did not exist. The lack of ratification by the County or City in a timely manner does not alter the fact the APZ was expanded and the Air Force did indeed operate with a de-facto APZ of 1500’ on either side of the runway center line.

b. Even phase one of the proposed development contains at least eight homes which would encroach into the zone to some degree or another.

c. Once encroachment by one developer has occurred, on what basis would the city deny encroachment by another? Even though the intention may be to never allow any other development except the stated Phase 1-3, what legal basis would the city have to deny additional construction? Currently, a documented reason exists for the size and shape of the restricted build area; it comes from the DOD and is the result of crash studies. Were the City to modify the APZ for its own purpose and recognize some artificial number such as 1100’, what scientific justification can be made for the change? Would such a number created for expedient purposes subject the City to liability in the event of a crash within the 400’ wide band the City is choosing to ignore?

d. The time frame offered is unreasonable to create any opportunity to land a new mission. Until the divisions begin to return from oversees and are bedded down in the US, there exists very limited opportunity to market the base to the other services. The timeframe for forever destroying the chances of a flying mission should be based on a reasonable timeframe for military planners.

e. The actual effect of partial encroachment into the APZ is a point of disagreement at the current time. It is our understanding that any encroachment removes the runway from consideration for a new mission by military planners. Others in the community insist that a “little” encroachment does not represent a threat to future missions.

Recently at a meeting of representatives from the City, County, GFDA, Airport Authority, MAC, Committee of 80 and BASE this issue was brought up in the context of funding a study to determine the exact impacts of limited development within the APZ. Mr. Lawton proposed using some of the remaining CBDG funds to answer these questions and there was general agreement as to the wisdom of this action. Given the willingness of all the partners to pursue such a study, it seems prudent to wait until it is completed prior to moving forward with any development within the APZ.

Cascade County would be pleased to utilize the $ 12,000 in matching funds it currently has pledged to the BASE fund toward this study.

f. Lastly, as a community we need to examine the potential closure of MAFB at some point in the future. If this were to occur, the entire base would be offered to the community for economic development purposes. We need to examine the value of the base with and without a runway. Without a runway, the base is basically a subdivision with government housing and some office buildings. While it would certainly have value, its value to the community with an operational runway or even a decommissioned runway with an intact APZ footprint would be greatly increased.

In summary:

The Cascade County Commission opposes any non conforming development which would encroach on the APZ at MAFB.

Cascade County stands ready to assist in the purchase of the lands or development rights within the APZ as the preferred method of protecting the APZ.

The Cascade County Commission urges the City Commission to table this matter at least until the study of the impacts of partial development in the APZ can be completed.

The county has no objection to the portions of the proposed Phase I Residential development which lie outside of the 1500’ boundary of the APZ.

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