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Fort’s future is under study


Noise and vibration from military training can be disruptive for communities surrounding military posts such as Fort A.P. Hill.

And from the Army’s perspective, development outside the gates can limit its activities and threaten its long-term viability.

Those are a few of the key issues in a joint land-use study being prepared on behalf of the sprawling Army post and the jurisdictions that surround it. Residents will have their first opportunity to weigh in during informational meetings  later this month.

The towns of Bowling Green and Port Royal, along with Caroline, Essex, King George and Spotsylvania counties, are working with the Army on the study, which should be completed later this year.

Two consulting firms, AECOM in Alexandria, and Travesky & Associates in Fairfax, are assisting with the study paid for by the Army.

The localities have similar concerns. Bowling Green, for example, is looking at noise issues and vibration from ordnance and aircraft, along with development and some  other matters, said Stephen Manster, the town manager.

“Overall, the base is not too happy with a lot of the residential development around the area,” Manster said. The town, meanwhile, has to plan for its future  residential and business placement, while keeping A.P. Hill and its mission in mind.

Issues go beyond development.

Caroline County has applied for a permit to withdraw water from the Rappahannock River. To deliver that water to customers in Bowling Green, which is now served only by wells, the pipeline might have to cross Army property.

Encompassing  more than 76,000 acres in Caroline and Essex counties, the fort was a rural outpost when it was founded in 1941. But that has changed as development encroached upon one of the Army’s most important training venues along the East Coast.

Over the years, there have been tensions between neighbors and A.P. Hill, mainly over noise and vibration.

In April 2009, some residents of Portobago Bay subdivision, on the Rappahannock off U.S. 17, complained of popped nails and cracks in drywall following some types of ordnance training.

The following year, a plan to establish an explosive ordnance training school on an existing range brought swift opposition from some residents and officials in Port Royal.

The Army maintains that it is a good neighbor by monitoring and controlling training activities and noise. For example, it has a community council to invite discussion and address such problems. The fort also has noise meters outside the gates, restricts aircraft flight paths, limits the size of explosions and suspends firing when atmospheric conditions intensify the effects.

Since 2006, A.P. Hill has worked to secure conservation easements along its boundaries under the  Army’s  Compatible  Use Buffer Program. The program creates buffers by paying nearby landowners not to develop their property. The post works with conservation agencies to purchase development rights.

The Defense Department in 2009 warned that demand for land, airspace and water surrounding the nation’s military installations is putting their missions in peril.

“If left unchecked [it] will degrade training and testing activities and thereby inhibit military readiness” the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative agency concluded.

Manster said preparations for the land-use study began last year. The consultants have assembled the data  and come up with preliminary findings. Those will be presented in the upcoming information meetings.

A draft report will be prepared after this month’s public meetings, with a final report due in late summer.

A separate policy committee and a working group composed of local officials, businesses and residents have been meeting to further hone the study topics. Manster is co-chair of the working group.

“One of the things we’re looking at  is developing an ongoing process of increasing communication” between the post and its neighbors, Manster said.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431