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Navy, county sign agreement on encroachment

Patuxent NAS CO Capt. Heidi Fleming and Commissioners of St., Mary's County President Randy Guy (center) sign new joint encroachment agreement.

Lexington Park, MD -- The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County and the commanding officer of Patuxent River Naval Air Station have inked a cooperation agreement on encroachment to the base. The agreement was signed by Commissioner President Randy Guy and Commanding Officer Capt. Heidi Fleming at a Jan. 19 joint meeting at the Frank Knox Training Center.

The agreement calls for the following:
• Twice yearly meetings;
• County inviting a Navy technical adviser to review development proposals in the vicinity of the base;
• Collaboration on citizen outreach on encroachment;
• Collaboration of analysis and data collection to “provide clearer quantitative measures of encroachment threats and the progress of mitigation and prevention measures;”
• Collaboration on threats beyond St. Mary’s County; and
• Working together to create Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) recommendations for Webster Field.

Deputy Director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development Robin Finnacom told meeting attendees that St. Mary’s County was the first in the country to create an AICUZ through local zoning. She said the cooperative agreement updates one originally signed in 2007.

The job of preventing encroachment has been made easier with the infusion of Department of Defense monies to the purchase of properties. The Readiness Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program was authorized by Congress and is funded by the Department of Defense (DoD). So far 362,000 acres have been protected at 80 locations in 28 states, according to Melanie Anderson of the Atlantic Test Range Sustainability Office.

Funding from DoD is supplemental by local government matches and from other partners. In the case of St. Mary’s County that includes Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the county commissioners and landowners.

According to St. Mary’s County Agricultural Manager Donna Sasscer, more than 3,000 acres in the county has been preserved in the Mattapany Rural Legacy Area south of the base. Five parcels have been purchased using the DoD funds to the tune of $3.9 million. The monies allowed preserving 1,270 acres, including the Shannon Farm property originally slated for development. The land near the base south gate will now allow waterfront park access.

A proposal to expand the Mattapany Rural Legacy Area has been put on hold by the county commissioners amid landowner concerns. St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development Director Chris Kaselemis told the joint meeting attendees that an outreach effort to the landowners would be undertaken. He said there could be some property devaluation from the program because landowners in the expanded area would not be able to increase development rights by purchasing them from other areas.

The joint meeting also featured a briefing on a project on base that will impact its neighbors outside the fence line. Now underway is the reconstruction of Runway 14-31 at Trapnell Field. That will force the use of Runway 6-24 about 60,000 aircraft operations this year. That temporarily will impact residents in a path from Lexington Park to Piney Point. “the frequency of noise events may potentially increase,” said Air Operation Office Cmdr. Anthony Rojas.

By the time the commissioners and Pax River officials have their next joint meeting there will be a new commanding officer at the base. Retirement ceremony for Base CO Capt. Fleming is scheduled for April 14. At the Feb. 19 joint meeting the commissioners presented a proclamation to Capt. Fleming (below) on her military service and especially her leadership at Pax River.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com

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