The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Noise from military post draws critics
By RUSTY DENNEN
A Caroline County couple are the latest Fort A.P. Hill neighbors to complain about training issues they say are affecting their quality of life.
Gary and Jennifer Kline, who live on a farm near the southeastern border of the Army installation, say overflights by aircraft, military vehicle traffic on narrow rural roads and noise are ongoing problems. They say their latest complaint was ignored by post officials.
Army officials say they work hard to mitigate such issues and communicate with neighbors while giving troops the realistic training they’ll need in combat.
The Klines outlined their concerns in a recent letter to The Free Lance–Star. Copies were sent to the Federal Aviation Administration, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Del. Bobby Orrock, R–Caroline, and state Sen. Ryan McDougle, R–Hanover. Orrock responded, asking fort officials to investigate.
“We have lived in Caroline County for 16 years, and over the period have dealt with the occasional artillery and air traffic (helicopters) near our home,” the Klines’ letter says, adding, “We totally support our armed forces and understand the need for training.”
But they say incidents have increased over the past three years, stemming from a Base Realignment and Closure Commission decision in 2005 that beefed up missions and the number of soldiers at Fort Lee near Petersburg. Fort Lee sends troops to Fort A.P. Hill for mandatory field training and explosive ordnance disposal school.
“The noise level of air traffic and artillery increased exponentially” during the period, the letter says. “The vehicles that travel the perimeter of the base are also a nuisance, not to mention the damage they do to our roads.”
Training-related air traffic has been especially bothersome, the Klines say.
“They felt the need to fly over (directly over) our house on a daily basis, many times for over 16 hours straight,” they write.
Their letter recounts one such flight in February when they were outside with grandchildren and dogs. A helicopter at treetop level flew over the house, then swung ever lower across a field.
“This was an unnecessary and hazardous maneuver to conduct over private property. We felt threatened and unsafe in our own yard,” the letter says.
Jennifer Kline said in a recent interview that for more than two weeks helicopters were flying over the house every eight minutes or so for 16 hours a day.
“There is absolutely no reason” for it, she said, given that the fort is so large, and that, in a conversation with a post air traffic controller, she was told that their farm was in a no-fly area.
She said the Army should put out specific information to neighbors if disruptive operations are planned. The couple say they filed a complaint, and were told someone would call back. No one did.
Next they called the FAA. A representative there told them that military installations are not subject to rules governing civilian air traffic. Kline said she and her husband have had occasional contacts with post officials over the years regarding various training issues, but that what’s been happening lately is far more intrusive.
NEED FOR TRAINING
Fort A.P. Hill spokeswoman Jennifer Erickson said the Army was working on a response to the Klines’ letter.
“We strive to train our warriors in the same types of environment, and under the same physical and mental stresses, they will face in combat,” Erickson said. “Live training gives [them] hands-on experience in firing and handling the weapons and ammunition they use on the battlefield, flying aircraft at night and operating armored vehicles under combat-like conditions.”
Erickson said that once aircraft are off the post, their activities are governed by the FAA. The helicopters mentioned by the Klines “were operating within the legal limits” published by the agency.
“Aircraft often seem closer to the ground than they actually are,” she said.
The post spokeswoman said the helicopter in question reported its height at 1,000 feet above mean sea level. A.P. Hill officials asked that it change its route to avoid the Klines’ property, and it complied.
Adjustments sometimes can’t be made, due to mission requirements, Erickson said.
Noise-management practices, community-outreach efforts and “fly-neighborly procedures” are among methods in place to reduce impacts on neighbors, she said.
About 92,000 troops trained at Fort A.P Hill last year. Encompassing more than 76,000 acres in Caroline and Essex counties, it’s one of the Army’s major East Coast training venues.
Military pilots are advised to avoid flying over the towns of Bowling Green and Port Royal, though “this is solely determined by the unit’s mission and need to train in those areas and does not mean that the areas will always be avoided,” Erickson said.
As for noise complaints, “All calls are logged in and investigated to determine the source.” She said training logs and noise monitors on post and in the surrounding community are checked to see if activities on post coincided with a complaint, and that the installation follows up with those who file reports.
She said that, along with a “sophisticated” noise-monitoring system, the post monitors atmospheric conditions that can affect the intensity of noise from explosions. Noise advisories are issued ahead of, and during, training activities that might be disruptive.
As part of its outreach, the post has a community council and launched a citizen’s academy last year to provide neighbors with an inside look at operations.
Erickson said the installation received more than 20 noise reports last year, seven so far this year.
Jennifer Kline said traffic along back roads funneling into Fort A.P. Hill is another sore point. Drivers often have to dodge large military vehicles.
“There are big potholes around the gates. I’m disappointed that Caroline County and the base have not come together to do something about these roads.”
There have been other complaints over the years from nearby residents.
In April 2009 some residents in Portobago Bay, about a mile from the post’s northeastern impact area, reported such damage as cracked foundations and drywall and a broken window following explosives training.
Then in 2010 some residents in Port Royal strongly opposed the Army’s plan to relocate three ordnance ranges to accommodate an explosive ordnance disposal training school. In response, the Army agreed to limit the size of the largest explosive charges used on the ranges, and of charges used at night.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Fort A.P. Hill posts information about noise and training activities that may impact neighbors:
On its website, army.mil/aphill.
On Facebook at facebook.com/FtAPHill.
On Twitter at twitter.com/fort_aphill.
On Caroline County’s notification system, Caroline Alert. Sign up
Call the post’s Public Affairs Office at 804/633-8324/8120 any time with questions or concerns or to file a noise report.