A virtual town hall was held April 16 as part of the ongoing Compatible Use Study being conducted by Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville.
The study is described as a “cooperative planning effort” between the base, White, Pulaski and Lonoke counties, and the cities of Cabot, Sherwood, Jacksonville, Lonoke, Maumelle, North Little Rock along with other small communities in the footprint of the base.
In addition to the base in Jacksonville and its more than 6,000 acres, the Air Force also uses the Blackjack Drop Zone in rural White County for training purposes. The drop zone is south of Romance, and C-130s practice with the other site in use being the All-American Landing Zone at Camp Robinson. The camp forms the western city limit of North Little Rock and Camp Robinson extends to Lake Conway to the north and west.
The Jacksonville base is home to approximately 64 C-130s and is the only training facility of its kind in the United States military and is also used for training by America’s military allies from around the world. The base is home to the largest international flying school in the world and has trained pilots, flight engineers and loadmasters from some 47 countries.
The goal of the study is to promote “responsible land use” while also, “accommodating compatible growth and economic development, protecting public safety and quality of life, and sustaining the mission of the Air Force in the region for the long-term.”
The study began in 2019 and included interviews with:
- Local governments
- The Arkansas Economic Development Commission
- The Arkansas Department of Transportation
- Community and business stakeholders
- Local utility providers
Public meetings have also been planned but, because of coronavirus concerns, the most recent town hall was held on Zoom where the results of the communities survey was discussed.
The report noted that 270 responses were collected with a little more than half, 149, came from Cabot and Jacksonville with the rest coming from 23 other locations.
A little more than three quarters of the respondents weren’t aware of “land use regulations at local jurisdictions that encourage compatible development” in the footprint of the three sites.
It is more than just that footprint though.
Air Force Col. Rob Ator (ret.) and Director of Military Affairs for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission noted on a December 2019 Arkansas Inc. podcast with Clark Cogbill, “you also have all the air space concerns that go with that,” Ator said. “You know, flying the C-130, we have military training routes that cover the entire state.”
And, Ator added, “when you bring all that into noise abatement and those kinds of issues, really it covers about 70-80 percent of the state and so that’s a very large study.”
Ator also noted the importance of Little Rock Air Force Base to the state’s economy. “It is by far and away the largest installation that we have in this state. You know, we have over 6,000 almost 7,000 military members who are going to work every day at Little Rock Air Force Base. The economic impact of that base alone for central Arkansas is over $1.2 billion,” he said.
Ator also talked about the regional effort. “The actual sponsor of this study is the city of Jacksonville and Mayor Bob Johnson out there,” Ator said. “But we’ve brought in all the county judges and Barry Hyde and Metroplan and Entergy, and we’ve brought in all the partners that have a stake in making sure that base is viable. And we’re all sitting around the table discussing the base. And so it’s knocking down a lot of walls.”
The goal, Ator said, is, “ultimately, what you want is that community to look at that base and go, ‘that’s my base.’ That’s not the Air Force out there, it’s not the Army out there, it’s my base.”
With the survey complete, the survey itself, barring more coronavirus concerns, is “expected to be complete in early 2021.”
The study is expected to cost more than $500,000 and is co-funded by the Department of Defense and the Office of Economic Adjustment. The study is administered by the Jacksonville Economic Development and Cultural Alliance with White & Smith Planning and Law Group in the lead and Marstel-Day, LLC and Benchmark CMR, Inc. assisting.
Image courtesy of the Little Rock Air Force Base