Noise contours give Robins flexibility in luring new missions

Larry Allen is no referee or arbiter, and he has no desire to leap between local governmental leaders and people concerned about the value of their property near Robins Air Force Base.

But the Air Force community planner can offer a look at how Air Force and local leaders have joined forces to guard against encroachment on Robins’ mission activity and protect life and quality of life off base.

The focus is on property falling within clear and accident potential zones and in noise contour areas. Clear and accident potential zones are defined by aircraft approach and takeoff patterns, and they remain relatively static over time. Robins has six: two clear zones directly adjacent to the ends of the runway and two sets of accident potential zones extending north and south. Only the northernmost accident potential zone, falling in south Bibb County, approaches compatibility limits due to residential construction.

The noise contours are a different — and more complex — story. Local planners have sought to minimize what Allen calls the “accordion effect” through adoption of a comprehensive mission noise contour. Robins flight operations generate noise levels up to 85 decibels. A decibel level above 65 is considered unhealthy for residential levels.

Allen concedes that the comprehensive approach, based on a 2004 Joint Land Use Study and the Air Force’s 1998 Air Compatible Use Zone analysis, is basically a “worst-case” option.

“The local governments agreed to larger noise contours because they did not want to have the accordion effect,” Allen said. “Instead of the contours shrinking as the base loses missions and increasing as missions are gained, the comprehensive plan will enable us to be steady regarding where the lines need to be.”

Since the 1998 AICUZ study, the base has lost two flying missions — the Georgia Air National Guard’s B-1s and the 19th Air Refueling Group’s KC-135 tankers — and gained a full complement of Joint STARS aircraft. The comprehensive plan continues to reflect noise impacts from all three systems.

Allen said Bibb, Houston, Twiggs, Crawford and Peach counties along with the cities of Warner Robins, Macon, Centerville and Byron have adopted the approach.

“It’s better to plan for a worst-case situation,” he said, “because that will accommodate the gaining of another flying mission for Robins without additional impact on the surrounding area. It gives the base and local governments a longer-term planning factor.”

The 778th Civil Engineering Squadron member contends that the worst-case approach is not overkill.

“With our large runway and available facilities, there is always the possibility of new missions coming in,” he said. “Even if our short-term prospects are not good, what will the picture be in five or 10 years?”

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Ron Smith said noise contour flexibility makes the base more valuable when the Air Force is making new mission assignments. Smith, a former Warner Robins Air Logistics Center commander, is a consultant to the 21st Century Partnership, an association of Middle Georgia political, business and civic leaders focused on supporting Robins.

“The Air Force wants to be able to assign new missions without jerking everybody around,” he said.

“It’s not about BRAC. It has to do with how valuable the base is.”

BRAC, or Base Realignment and Closure Commission, is a federal process for identifying bases for closure or mission changes.

Addressing incompatible development sooner rather than later is key.

“The sooner we do it the better it is for the base and the local community,” Allen said, “and the stronger case we can make for a new flying mission.”

Residents near the base also will benefit, Allen said.

“It eliminates the uncertainty for them,” he said, “and provides the greatest level of safety. People know where they are today (in terms of the noise contours) and where they will likely be in the future.”

The goal is not to BRAC-proof Robins, the base official said.

“We want to be in position to attract new missions, and that should be good for everyone,” he said.