County is watching out for Luke AFB - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

County is watching out for Luke AFB

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Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008 6:57 pm | Updated: 8:42 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The politics surrounding development around Luke Air Force Base and its auxiliary fields has unfairly created the misconception that Maricopa County has been somehow negligent or shortsighted.

It’s just not true. Maricopa County has worked for decades to preserve Luke. In fact, Luke’s protection is part of the county’s own set of strategic priorities and goals.

Maricopa County is proud of Luke’s integral role in the nation’s defense and appreciates its $2.2 billion economic impact, not just in the west Valley, but statewide. The simple truth is that county government has been thrown in the middle of a legal and financial Catch-22. We will fight to preserve Luke.

Here is our dilemma: Governments routinely condemn private property for public purposes, to build roads, freeways and other infrastructure. But when it happens, the governments compensate the property owners for their loss and inconvenience.

The Arizona law passed in 2004 orders the county to abolish residential zoning on private property surrounding the base.

Now, the attorney general says that’s OK. But this law would seem to usurp all counties’ authority on planning and zoning. What if the county complies with this law and does what the attorney general advises? The landowners will surely sue for compensation. They did exactly that shortly after the law was passed, and that’s why we lifted that moratorium.

The way it was drafted, legislation protecting Luke against encroachment smacks of an unfunded mandate on county government and county taxpayers. This is an expensive worry that the state and federal governments push down to the county. Payouts could reach tens of millions of dollars.

Originally, the law seemed to recognize that, creating with it a state military installation fund to buy up land or development rights near military airports. Unfortunately, that state fund was drained to help balance the budget. Now the county is left without any partners in financing these potential costs.

Luke Air Force Base is a state and local asset, a national security installation with a national mission and should be the shared responsibility of all government entities. The attorney general and the county have been negotiating this for several years. Now we are asking the court to provide answers to these complex legal and financial issues, not relying on competing legal opinions or dueling press conferences. The goal is the same: protect Luke. The question to be resolved is simple: who pays the surrounding land owners?

A court is exactly the place where such fundamental and important issues are handled.

Fulton Brock represents District 1 on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

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