Write to the Point
Medical Lake may be small, compared to other cities in the Inland Empire. But its recent stance on Spokane County’s Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) is commendable, holding out on approving the land-use document.
The City Council has held strong against unfathomable pressure from surrounding jurisdictions, sticking to the interests of its residents. Many came to open houses last year to speak against the document and the numerous regulations it imposes on homeowners and developers.
JLUS was created with the main intent of protecting Fairchild and enhancing its future mission potential, making the base more attractive to lure the new KC-46A tanker fleet. The base is the county’s most important asset, contributing around $500 million in annual economic impact.
Don’t get me wrong, Fairchild is incredibly important. This area cannot lose the base, nor the honorable men and women working there. They set the tone for this community.
But JLUS goes quite a bit further than setting up density zones based around the base’s mission, or future missions. Instead, it turns into a big government document that, in its most detailed sections, has wording that can affect an average homeowner.
Broken into three layers of regulations, MIA Two, the middle tier, extends out five miles around the base’s runway, and includes having Fairchild and the county review developments exceeding 35 feet in height, new commercial or industrial uses and all projects proposing open water features.
Extensive interagency coordination is required “regarding evaluation of land use policies and development proposals potentially affecting FAFB operations. Additionally, prevention of bird strikes on aircraft and other wildlife intrusions affecting Fairchild AFB operations are discouraged, Fairchild AFB and FAA review of project proposals are required to ensure that structures do not penetrate Department of Defense military airspace and prevent interference with military electronic communications.”
Also, part of the aircraft strike hazard requirement in JLUS includes the following statement: “Required landscaping plans shall provide a detailed description of all species of trees and shrubs intended to be installed.”
The vague wording in JLUS makes it a document to be feared, and allows for dramatic changes in the future. Pew Research Center polls show trust in government has declined across the board, from federal to local levels. Given recent concerns about drone usage on domestic soil, perhaps it’s best to revisit the avigation easement that homeowners living in MIA Two must sign.
One of the points in that easement requests that homeowners “allow military aircraft to use the airspace over the subject property.” The statement is seemingly simple enough, given the numerous training missions flown by the base. However, why not simply state that homeowners would need to “allow military aircrafts, specifically the (insert names here), to use airspace over the subject property for flight training missions or other missions in conjunction with Fairchild’s mission.”
Having vague wording throughout the document leaves it open to speculation that it could change in the future. Local leaders have even said that JLUS is a “living document,” something that will change with time.
I’m likely in the minority, but when the county government passes new regulations, those rules must be written in ink, not pencil. Leaving laws open for interpretation will allow the county to tweak the document in the future based on its own interests. At that point, who is really benefitting from JLUS’ implementation?
While Medical Lake will certainly feel some pressure in the near future to sign on, I hope they continue to stand their ground.