SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — The largest munition terminal in the world, quietly operating on the edge of the fastest-growing county in the state, has some suggestions for its municipal neighbors (and itself).
After initiating a Joint Land Use Study early last year, Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU) and its stakeholders have come up with 53 recommendations for local governments to adopt — at their discretion (read over a dozen at the bottom of this article).
Backed by a $270,000 Department of Defense grant with $30,000 local in-kind matching funds, the Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) was designed to improve military and community collaboration.
The 209-page study acknowledges MOTSU can improve its communication efforts with the public and municipal partners. It also outlines specific ways municipal partners can consider the military’s mission while managing the region’s explosive growth.
Since 1955, MOTSU has operated without much attention. Residents of the region wouldn’t know it’s there, save for the occasional container vessels or two colossal cranes that peer over the horizon near the Cape Fear River’s mouth.
All the while, MOTSU supplied 85% of wartime munitions in the Vietnam War and 90% in Operations Desert Shield and Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Last year, after initiating the JLUS, the military terminal shared the radius of its previously undisclosed blast safety arcs.
The so-called “blast zone” arc is confined to land owned outright by the federal government, inside the “buffer zone” on Carolina and Kure Beaches. This arc represents the minimum distance that can be safely maintained between an explosive site and habitable building.
At roughly twice the size of the Inhabited Building Distance (IBD), the K88 quantity-distance arc includes areas with a high probability of glass breakage in the event of a terminal explosion. According to its former commander, Col. Marc Mueller, the K88 has remained unchanged for MOTSU, but the distance was new to the public when the military released it last year.
The K88 zone includes public and privately-owned land in developed areas in Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and parts of Brunswick County.
MOTSU maintains nearly 5,000 acres in privately-owned easements along its rail corridor. When explosive cargoes are in transit, there are no explosive safety arcs, according to study documents. Instead, the cargo falls under separate U.S. Department of Transportation safety guidelines.
“An incident along the MOTSU rail corridor involving a train carrying an explosive cargo, however, could be reasonably presumed to create a hazard similar to if the explosive cargo was being temporarily staged on the terminal and no longer ‘in transit,'” according to the JLUS’ July recommendations.
An estimated 11,000 residents and 5,000 residential structures are located along the rail corridor, which runs from MOTSU’s base to the Leland Interchange Yard, north of Leland’s town limits. The most significant areas of concentrated growth is occurring east of the rail in Leland and unincorporated Brunswick County. The Leland 2020 Master Plan does not address MOTSU, according to the JLUS.
“Growth along the rail line between MOTSU and Leland will eventually begin to strain the functionality of the road network that serves the rural area along the rail corridor,” the JLUS states.
To enhance safety and promote coordination, MOTSU — through its partnership with two counties and five municipalities — has come up with 53 land use recommendations. (Below are several, but for all 53, view the entire JLUS. Recommendations begin on page 111)
According to Allen Serkin, Cape Fear Council of Governments’ local government services director, comments on the study will be considered indefinitely (submit comments via the contact form on COG’s website).
- Require disclosure — “…it would be prudent for local governments to require disclosure on final subdivision plats and require site plans, preliminary plats, and similar development submittals to include notation regarding their proximity to the main terminal or one of its components.”
- MOTSU could buy or obtain conservation easements for undeveloped land around rail corridor — “Ongoing regional population growth and transportation improvements, such as the Cape Fear Crossing, will likely lead to developers seeking to purchase and develop land along the remaining undeveloped portion of the rail corridor between MOTSU and the Leland interchange. By purchasing property, or the right to develop property, MOTSU and its partners can retain a greater degree of compatibility along the corridor than would be likely under even the most optimistic regulatory scenarios.”
- Limit residential density along rail corridor, interchange yard — “Limiting both the density of any future residential development along the MOTSU rail corridor, and restricting the development of uses that concentrate large numbers of people or accommodate groups that might be more difficult to evacuate will help to preserve the compatibility of the area along the corridor.”
- Restrict non-compatible use — “high-density multi-family developments, churches, schools, day care centers, nursing homes, hospitals, as well as any other use that concentrates large numbers of people” should be restricted in close proximity to the rail line and potential evacuation area.
- Expanding no-fly areas — “…the area above the Cape Fear River is unrestricted for UAS flight, permitting hobbyists, or others, the ability to legally fly in these areas (it should be noted that the airspace above MOTSU is not restricted for manned aircraft), which in turn creates safety and security concerns. And, although the airspace immediately above the rail corridor is restricted, the narrowness of the corridor means that for practical purposes, there is no real restriction from flying a UAS along the rail line.”
- Expanding restricted area in Cape Fear River
- Prohibit building structures five stories or higher within the K88 zone, or only permit such structures through a special use permit
- Limit or eliminate rail crossings
- Restrict access to Plantation Road south of St. Phillips road while keeping access to Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson.
- At the N.C. 133 crossing — the most traveled crossing — NCDOT should construct a grade crossing to bringing the road above the rail line.
- Acquire rail corridor — “…this would provide MOTSU security forces with enhanced legal authority on the property, as well as provide the opportunity to explore options for sealing the corridor, to the extent practical, to limit trespassing and other unauthorized entry.”
- Extend required notice of use change for pending development activity to rail line, not just MOTSU’s terminal — “By applying the same notice provisions to the rail line, local governments will enhance MOTSU’s situational awareness with regard to pending development activity and remove any uncertainty about when and where notice is required. Given the recommendation for MOTSU to pursue full ownership of the rail corridor, it is also possible that this would at some point fall within the clear statutory definition of a military installation, and thus begin to legally require that notices be provided. Initiating this step ahead of such a change will help to ensure that the communities are compliant with the statutory mandate from the outset if this occurs.”
- Support Cape Fear Crossing
- New mooring, new ferry planned — increase routes from 32 to 48 crossings a day (this may negatively impact shipping access)
- Consider expanding Snow’s Cut for emergency events at MOTSU or Brunswick Nuclear.
- Strengthen enforcement of existing agreements – “In years past, it has been anecdotally related that enforcement of the strict terms of the agreements were not always carried out by MOTSU. Whether by omission or tacit agreement, this has led, in some cases, to the discovery of violations that local governments may have felt some implied consent to undertake.”
- Consider relocating utility lines outside of explosive safety zone
- WMPO (Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – the major hub for liaison and coordination of multi-agency transportation infrastructure projects in the area) should add MOTSU member to its technical review board
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at email@example.com