Tuesday, January 31, 2023

New Hanover County commissioners to take sides in Wilmington’s military jet debate

On Monday the New Hanover County commissioners will consider passing a “Resolution In Support of Military Operations at Wilmington International Airport.” (Port City Daily photo/Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County’s commissioners will make clear their stance in Wilmington’s growing jet noise debate Monday. Elected officials will consider a resolution declaring support of military operations at Wilmington International Airport.

The draft resolution appears on the agenda roughly two weeks after ​​the chair and one commissioner exchanged contentious emails with Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, over opposing opinions on the uptick in military aircraft at ILM.

At the time, chair Julia Olson-Boseman told Butler she “helped have ILM declared persona not [sic] grata to the military.”

“Congratulations,” she added.

RELATED: Deb Butler gets scorched for stance on military flights

Over the past year, locals and especially residents in the flight paths of the air traffic have taken notice of the increased regularity of roaring military jets flying overhead. The Department of Defense uses the local airport as training grounds, and its planes buy fuel at an onsite fixed-base operator, Modern Aviation.

Modern Aviation began “hot refueling” in the summer of 2020. The process allows aircrafts to remain running during fill-ups and significantly cuts refueling times, sometimes down to 15 minutes instead of two hours or longer.

The issue is a divisive one. Opponents are often those who live downtown, near the airport, and who worry about the consequences for historic structures below, their property values, quality of life, and the environment. Then there are the staunch proponents of the military, who consider noise a minor cost to pay in exchange for American freedoms.

“The resolution is intended to show the U.S. military that New Hanover County supports its use of ILM as a refueling and training site,” according to the agenda item.

Entitled “Resolution In Support of Military Operations at Wilmington International Airport,” the document states the refueling and training exercises contribute around $14 million each year to the local economy. It asserts that the activities provide an economic boost to ILM, the fixed-based operators at the airport, the nearby hotels, the rental car businesses and restaurants.

Further, the resolution states the military has contributed nearly $500,000 to the airport in the form of fuel flowage fees so far this year. Fuel flowage totals reached 488,116 gallons this past September, a 146% increase compared to September 2019.

According to the resolution, $1.4 million was invested by businesses to upfit and purchase equipment for the airport’s military operations.

As was standard during World War II, the federal government occupied the airport and used it for wartime activities. After the war, the United States allowed New Hanover County to retake control of the local airport, but with the condition that the military’s access to ILM never be significantly limited. (In times of an “emergency,” according to the 1940s deed, the United States has the right to reclaim the airport if desired). 

The county commissioners appoint members to the New Hanover County Airport Authority. Olson-Boseman has served on the board for over two years. Just last week the chairwoman spoke at a press conference to help announce two companies committing major economic developments in the airport’s business park. The same day, the airport named its new director, Jeffrey Bourk, who will succeed Julie Wilsey after her surprise dismissal in June.

The resolution will be considered during the Nov. 15 meeting, starting at 9 a.m. in the New Hanover County Courthouse. The meetings are also streamed online.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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