No action on Navy plan

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, January 12, 2011

FRANKLIN—The City Council declined Monday to move forward on a proposed “memorandum of understanding” with the Navy on the use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training.

“I personally am not ready to commit” to the memorandum of understanding, Ward 1 Councilman Barry Cheatham said when Mayor Jim Councill asked if council members were ready to take action.

Meantime, the mayor said the Navy would be willing to guarantee that no more than three planes would fly in a pattern at any one time. If discussions with the Navy continue, the guarantee could be included in a contract, Councill told council members.

Ted Brown, a media relations officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said Tuesday that the Navy is listening to community concerns following a Dec. 14 flight demonstration in which five planes flew over the city.

“The Navy discussed ways of mitigating noise concerns resulting from last month’s demonstration, including ways to avoid extending the pattern as was required with five aircraft,” Brown said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement. “One potential mitigation discussed would be to fly three aircraft in the pattern, have them depart, then train the remaining two aircraft. This type of mitigation will be discussed during contract negotiations, and standard operating procedures that take community concerns into account will be included in the final contract.”

Cheatham reported on a Dec. 31 meeting at the Village at Woods Edge that included city residents for and against the Navy’s plan to use the airport for turboprop touch-and-go practice.

Cheatham said he had requested that five planes be used for the Dec. 14 demonstration because he understood that would be the maximum number that would be flown. An October demonstration by the Navy involved two planes.

“What came out of that was that the max was too many,” he said of resident feedback.

Councill said “drastic concerns” from citizens following the Dec. 14 demonstration were taken to the Navy during a meeting in Isle of Wight County last week.

“We took those concerns directly to the Navy on last Thursday and told them basically that the lifestyles of Franklin and Isle of Wight were not the same,” he said. “So certain things had to be mitigated or worked on, or we could not continue what we were doing.”

Councill said the proposed memorandum of understanding with the Navy, which the City Council tabled in November, is not a binding document.

“It was merely the Navy’s attempt on the additional invitation to be as public and forthright as they possibly could,” he said.

City Attorney Taylor Williams said the purpose of the memorandum has been “widely misunderstood” and the consequences of signing it “grossly exaggerated.”

After inviting airports throughout the region to make proposals last spring for hosting the turboprop training exercises for Norfolk-based pilots, the Navy announced in the fall that it was negotiating with Franklin because of a World War II-era deed that gives the Navy permanent access to the city’s airport, which is located in neighboring Isle of Wight County.