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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

What does MOTSU want? A glimpse at the military’s preliminary land-use concerns

Two counties and five municipalities are working with Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point to determine and remediate potential land use conflicts around the ammunition shipping terminal. MOTSU is considering whether some structures are necessary or if they can be relocated.

The entire joint land use study area includes New Hanover and Brunswick Counties, spread betwen five municipalities: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Boiling Spring Lakes, Southport and Leland. (Port City Daily graphic/Courtesy Cape Fear Council of Governments)
The entire joint land use study area includes New Hanover and Brunswick Counties, spread betwen five municipalities: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Boiling Spring Lakes, Southport and Leland. (Port City Daily graphic/Courtesy Cape Fear Council of Governments)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — How will Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point’s (MOTSU) recommendations impact development around the fastest growing county in the state?

At least in some areas in MOTSU’s two-county, five-municipality study area, the military terminal has an interest in limiting growth and activity. And, where development already exists, the military is evaluating what can be moved.

RELATED: MOTSU’s land use findings to be presented at a pair of public meetings

MOTSU, the largest military terminal in the world, is facilitating a Department of Defense-funded joint land use study that kicked off this summer. Its primary function is to temporarily stage and transport munitions. (Millions of munitions moved through the Brunswick County base during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War)

Next week, stakeholders will present preliminary findings at a pair of public meetings, before final land use recommendations are released in the spring.


The point of the study, according to its facilitator, Cape Fear Council of Governments, is to identify potential land use conflicts near MOTSU’s base, stationed 25 miles south of Wilmington.

MOTSU’s study and a joint land use study surrounding Camp Lejeune in Onslow County are taking place simultaneously. Though MOTSU’s former commander Marc Mueller stated in July meetings that the base did not have plans to expand, it appears Camp Lejeune is not ruling out expansion. A fact sheet on that study cites encroachment areas around the base that could impact “future mission expansion.”

After announcing the $270,000 study, the relatively quiet military base has revealed several public disclosures. Study documents show the MOTSU’s blast zone extends much farther than its existing buffer zones — sensitive information that was only recently released to the public.

Significant residential and commercial development has taken place since the plant first opened in 1955, inside the explosive safety distance zones.

Since 1985, six similar joint land use studies have been conducted in the state: Cherry Point’s study was released in May 2016, Camp Lejeune’s is being conducted now, Fort Bragg’s wrapped up last month, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Dare County Range was finalized last year, and Camp Butner – the only North Carolina base that does not appear to have conducted a study in the last two years.

Land use conflicts

According to recent study documents, shown at a policy committee meeting last week, MOTSU has identified several land use conflicts so far.

First, 19 sites have been identified in the military’s inhabited safety distance zone, the highest-risk explosive arc designation. Ten of these sites — including Kure Beach’s public park, Carolina Beach’s water and wastewater facilities, Fort Anderson and the Ft. Fisher Ferry — are not subject to Army licenses for operation.

Study documents bring up questions of concerns for these sites: “Can it be relocated?” and “Is it critical to public safety?” are included on a PowerPoint slide on blast zone compatibility.

Outside of this first zone, lies the K88 zone, a wider arc that designates areas with a high probability of glass breakage during an explosion. MOTSU has identifed several tall buildings — larger than five stories, mostly located in Carolina Beach — that fall inside the K88 zone. Since state building codes do not allow for local modification, MOTSU will likely request local partners to implement strengthened glass and window standards on a voluntary basis.

Public crossings of the base’s 16-mile railroad also appear to be a concern, study documents show. MOTSU is looking to restrict public access on Plantation Road, – a 2.9-mile road near Fort Anderson, through potentially changing the road’s ownership.

Explosive safety distance zones don’t apply to munitions while being transported on MOTSU’s rail line, N.C. 211 or Highway 87, study documents state. Despite this, zones do temporarily expand and contract at the terminal in Sunny Point as munitions are staged and transported.

Identified concerns

Several items of concern fall inside the half-mile radius that surrounds MOTSU’s rail line toward its Leland Interchange Yard. Some of which include:

  • South Brunswick School Campus
  • Northwest District Park
  • Commercial development on Highway 17
  • Industrial area along Highway 74-76 near the Leland Industrial Park

Items of concern inside the three-mile radius surrounding MOTSU’s terminal in Sunny Point include:

  • South Brunswick School Campus
  • Brunswick Nuclear Station
  • Pleasure Island Evacuation Route

In order to maintain safe, escape-route producers, MOTSU has also identified regional traffic congestion as an issue. It’s not clear how exactly MOTSU plans to work with stakeholders to improve this.

Preliminary findings also indicate MOTSU would like to curtail high-density development near its rail corridor. Zoning regulations could be implemented, study documents state, that would exclude some land uses. Schools, daycares, multi-family development were identified as potentially incompatible land uses, with MOTSU suggesting large lot single-family residential developments could limit density.

As previously discussed this summer, MOTSU is also looking at influencing maritime and aviation traffic near its base. The entire width of the Cape Fear River is not federally-restricted, MOTSU is seeking to strengthen restrictions along the waterway.

From mandatory intervention by land acquisition or voluntary arrangements like “development guidelines,”  MOTSU is exploring a range of conflict resolution strategies to solve these concerns.

Lastly, as one of the main goals of the study, MOTSU is looking to strengthen its relationships with local governments. State law, which stemmed from a joint land use study of Fort Bragg, requires local governments to notify military base commanders regarding land use changes within a five-mile radius of the base.

This law, according to study documents, is not always followed.

MOTSU identified an “inconsistent application of statutory requirement for land use notice” in its policy committee presentation. Municipalities this concern could apply to includes Brunswick County, Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, Southport, and Boiling Spring Lakes.

Public meetings will be held Tuesday, Dec. 4 at two locations:

More information on the joint land use study can be found at Cape Fear Council of Government’s website here.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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