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Hampton spends nearly $3 million for Langley base 'clear zone'

HAMPTON, Va. — The city has started buying properties just west of the Langley Air Force Base runway to protect people in the event an aircraft falls short of its intended target.

Hampton has spent $3.36 million using state and city dollars to buy properties within an area known as the Langley "clear zone," Hampton Director of Federal Facilities Bruce Sturk said.

The city has appraised 17 parcels owned by 10 cooperative property owners. The city bought two properties and officials are finishing contracts on three other properties.

City officials are negotiating with the owners of at least nine other properties, according to a city news release. Eminent domain is not being used to obtain the land.

Buying land in an area with the highest probability of aircraft crashes alleviates two concerns for state and local officials: That clearing the land of homes and businesses will protect people in an area with a high potential for a crash, and as a signal to Washington, D.C., that the city and state are serious about keeping Langley safe from future base closures.

"This is a very positive step forward in the process that started back in 2010," Sturk said in the news release. "We are very pleased with the progress to date and the support we have received from the state, City Council and (Langley Air Force Base)."

Langley is the only Air Force base in Virginia, and its operations, staff and other personnel contribute $1.2 billion into the Hampton Roads economy each year, according to a August 2010 study.

The region was hit in 2005 when the Base Realignment and Closure commission closed Fort Monroe in Hampton and threatened Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. In addition, the management of four area bases was consolidated into two. Langley and Fort Eustis in Newport News now operate under a joint arrangement, as do Fort Story and Little Creek Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach.

In response, Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson and York County commissioned the 2010 land use study that recommends spending about $12 million to purchase 31 acres to extend Langley's buffer zone.

Hampton and the state have each agreed to pitch in $3 million acquire land from willing sellers.

Money spent so far includes costs for environmental studies, appraisals, wetland studies, purchases and demolition of any structures on the land, Sturk said.

"We don't want people living within the clear zone in residential homes, so that will be turned into green space," Sturk said. "We don't want any kind of buildings there."

The city bought 2927 N. Armistead Ave. – a 41-acre plot with a single-family home – in October for $378,500. The city paid $168,000 in August for 2935 N. Armistead Ave., a half-acre lot with a 1950s-era brick home on it.

The state matches each dollar the city spends ton those purchases, Sturk said.

The city and state's efforts have pleased Langley officials.

"The ongoing efforts by the state and local jurisdictions to curb civilian encroachment in the areas crucial to our flying mission is critical and fully supported by Langley AFB," wrote Col. David B. Chisenhall Jr., 633 Mission Support Group commander.
 

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