Protecting Luke is board's duty - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Protecting Luke is board's duty

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Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2008 9:48 pm | Updated: 11:33 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

An economic engine that provides thousands of jobs and pumps an estimated $2.2 billion into Maricopa County's economy is at risk. You would think every politician in the county would jump to protect such an asset, but unfortunately the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors continues to defy both law and logic to put the future of Luke Air Force Base in danger. We need county supervisors who will protect the Air Force base that protects our national security.

In 2004, the Arizona Legislature passed a law to protect Luke and its auxiliary airfields from encroaching development that could force the base to close and put residents in danger. Rather than work to preserve Luke and comply with the law, the board chose to sue the state, claiming the law opens them up to lawsuits by landowners around the base. The board ignores the fact that there are many legal ways to protect the land surrounding the base from encroaching housing developments. Frankly, the supervisors have increased their risk of being sued by dragging their feet for so long and allowing development in Luke's "accident-potential zones" to occur.

The Board of Supervisors never should have issued permits to build homes in the Luke "accident-potential zone," for obvious reasons. A full 67 percent of all major accidents at U.S. Air Force bases occurred in such areas, and no homeowner should be placed at such mortal risk.

When the state law protecting Luke passed in 2004, the board was required to rework the county's General Plan to create a buffer between the base and developments, as other local governments have done without issue. In 2001 and again in 2004, the Arizona Department of Commerce created a detailed land use study and plan for Maricopa County to follow in order to protect Luke. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors disregarded both studies.

Moreover, the board went against the advice of its own planners by approving development near Luke. A lack of responsible growth planning has been the norm for our Board of Supervisors. The board has previously ignored SRP's advice on protecting our county's water supply and even approved new developments that lacked adequate fire service or serious consideration of the traffic they would generate.

As your supervisor, I would approach Luke Air Force Base with the same attention that Mesa has given to construction near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, an economic engine for the East Valley.

Long before 2004, we could have avoided this threat by creating partnerships to preserve agricultural land in the area. Even today, Proposition 303 "Growing Smarter Act" funds for protecting open space, as well as federal matching funds, could be made available to help preserve land around Luke. The county's years of defying state law and increased development near Luke have made this task harder and potentially more expensive, but with a little hard work and political will, we can still protect Luke and the rights of nearby property owners.

The county should not let a sea of houses wash away Luke, a source of pride and economic development for the Valley. As county supervisor, I will work to immediately adopt a comprehensive plan to restrict development encroachment in Luke's accident and noise zones to protect the Air Force base that protects us.

Ed Hermes of Chandler is a candidate in District 1 for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

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