Consider quality of life before inviting Navy pilots to practice here

Published 8:17 am Friday, May 21, 2010

We recently read in the Tidewater News that City Manager Fleming had expressed a desire on behalf of the City of Franklin to have the Franklin Airport considered as a site for the Navy’s “touch and go” practice for turbo prop aircraft. While I would applaud the desire to learn more about the “opportunity,” I believe we are premature in asking to be considered.

Our city is undergoing a change of epic proportions given the recent IP closing and its impending impact on other local enterprises. Good people with good intentions are working night and day to find a way out of this economic morass. We are fortunate, as so many have observed, to have a skilled workforce, with a great work ethic readily available.

Other industries, e.g., Northrop Grumman, have already dipped into this pool in a significant way and others are trolling our waters for similar quality employees giving a well-deserved economic boost to some families. Repurposing of the IP site seems increasingly possible. That would help enormously.

One asset, however, that should not be given short shrift in this effort is the quality of life here in Franklin. Franklin, particularly during the Camp Manufacturing and Union Camp period, became much more than a typical mill town, economically, socially and aesthetically. That continues today, even if to a slightly lesser extent.

The future of Franklin will depend on our ability to attract people to our area, people with dollars to spend locally and pay local taxes. Steve Stewart recently editorialized about this very issue. Retirees and others willing to trade city life for a quieter, more rural environment will likely become a big part of our salvation. This can and will happen ONLY if that quality of life is preserved and enhanced, as possible.

I am a huge fan of our armed forces and give thanks daily for those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way in defense of life and liberty.

I understand the need to practice their trade, but as with all things, there’s a time and place for everything. That is to say, touch and go practice should be done in places where the impact on safety and quality of life is minimized. As a former resident of Virginia Beach who lived nowhere near Oceana or Fentress, I, nevertheless, came to witness directly the impact of this practice on daily life.

The proximity of our airport to the northern side of the city is minimal. This side of the city includes two schools, a hospital, a YMCA and lots of taxpaying residents.

Touch and go practice will likely include flight paths over or near all of these places and may place them in High Noise and Accident Potential Zones. Practice takes place day and night.

When I lived in Virginia Beach, aircraft flying over my residence was, at times, every six minutes for several hours often from daylight into the early hours of the morning. It is very intrusive. The noise statistics which the Navy assigned to my area bore no resemblance to reality when the planes were airborne. These pilots and those in turbo props want and deserve lots of practice. That’s what the Navy is seeking.

My caution to City Manager Fleming and City Council is simple: Develop and implement a PLAN for recovery. When opportunities occur that do not fit that plan, give it careful scrutiny, knowing that such acts derail said plans. In our recovery plan, please do not ignore one of the primary reasons people will choose Franklin.

I believe inviting the Navy to utilize our airport for touch and go practice will significantly sacrifice quality of life. Are we willing to take that step for short-term gain and sacrifice long term value and potential?