The Valdosta Daily Times
A proposed text amendment to the Moody Activity Zone surrounding Moody Air Force Base has the military worried the base may close due to future encroachment issues, while some Lowndes County landowners and other citizens are frustrated over being told what to do with their land.
Encroachment upon the
MAZ — the ground under the air space in which the Air Force is allowed to operate — threatens any air base within the range of growing municipalities.
Because of safety and noise issues, too much residential area within an MAZ can limit the USAF’s ability to run missions, and the military’s interest in continued support of the base can decrease. The loss of operations can cause a base to close.
But Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ashley Paulk, speaking on behalf of county landowners who have had their holdings for generations, is concerned that ethics is a deeper issue than the closure of the base.
The current MAZ ordinance is “far too stringent on what (landowners) can do with their property,” Paulk said. “And Moody doesn’t do as they want everybody else to do.”
In a recent meeting with the Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee, Paulk alleged that military developers associated with Moody have prevented the passage of amendments to the MAZ ordinance, only to develop housing communities designed for the military in the same area.
“I think Moody is a valuable asset,” Paulk said. “But at some point ethics have to weigh in with the dollars. They bring in sales taxes and things like that, and rent apartments, but the main thing is that you’ve got elderly people out here that used to farm this land, and the only way to make it profitable is to sell it. And there are so many restrictions on how they can sell it that it’s hard to do.”
John Bostic, 83, a two-tour Korean War veteran in the Marines, is one such example. Since the 1950s, he has lived and farmed land that after the establishment of Moody, now lies within the MAZ.
The current ordinance states that the 120 acres of his land holdings within the MAZ must be sold in parcels no smaller than 2.5 acres, which reduces the land’s value and makes it more difficult to sell. The rest of his farm, which lies outside the MAZ, can be divided into half-acre lots, he said.
“There’s a lot more people that can afford to buy a half-acre lot than a 2.5-acre lot,” Bostic said. “If I would get anything extra or any supplement, that would be another story, but because I’m living in this area, I’m being penalized more than everyone in this county, and I get no more services.”
Bostic’s land lies three miles from the base, he said, and he does not regularly see or hear planes above his land, he said, but he had strong words for Moody’s concerns about encroachment.
“If building houses on that land would cause them to close Moody field, they don’t need the base to stay open very bad,” Bostic said. “I served on the front lines attached to the 1st Marine Division, and I have often wondered why I was over there; apparently it wasn’t to be treated fair and equal when I came back to the U.S.”
Bob Daugherty, another landowner affected by the MAZ, said the Department or Defense, which oversees Moody, is keeping him from moving back into his home.
Daugherty signed an easement for a portion of his land to Moody, but remained living in the house immediately in front of that land for about 10 years. He moved out, and is now unable to return under the MAZ, he said, even though his house was not part of the easement and others are still living in homes just as close to military-zoned land.
Daugherty’s circumstances are particularly troublesome because he is fighting both the DOD and the County, he said.
“The DOD won’t let me move back in, and the County won’t give me the permit because the military won’t let them,” Daugherty said. “I hope to God they close that place.”
Daugherty also expressed concerns that “the bullets they’re shooting into the ground” might be affecting the potability of County water.
From the perspective of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Council, Moody is a huge economic engine that must be preserved. In a Legislative Alert memo sent out Dec. 11, Chairman of the Board Tim Jones voiced his opposition to encroachment, siding with Moody.
"The Chamber's GAC Executive Committee voted unanimously to oppose actions that allow encroachment and weaken the MAZ," Jones stated. "We meet with Air Force officials at the Pentagon annually and ask them, 'What else can our community do to protect MAFB from (closure)?' The answer, every year: prevent encroachment, and the best way to do that is by protecting the MAZ."
The economic impact of Moody is about $448 million per year, according to the GAC. This figure includes total military pay, total civilian pay, the value of jobs created, and local contract expenditures, but this is only part of the value of the base, the GAC believes.
"It's about more than the money; it's about our national security," said Erika Bennett, Director of Government Affairs and Marketing. "I don't know how you can even say what Lowndes County would look like without Moody, but I don't think we'd like to see that happen."
There are 13,000 acres to the east still available to Moody, according to Paulk, who believes changes to the MAZ would in no way affect the base.
"The County and City governments have actually bought up some land to create a buffer," Paulk said. "I'm sure Moody closing down would severely hurt the economy, but in no way would changes to the MAZ close it."
Paulk also directly addressed public allegations that the text amendment would allow him to more easily profit from his own land interests within the MAZ.
“I want to make it very clear that I don’t have any interest in that subdivision on Davidson Road,” Paulk said.
The text amendment was tabled at the Commission’s Dec. 11 meeting until January, to allow both parties further consideration.
Economic Impact of Moody AFB
source: 23rd Comptroller Squadron, Moody AFB
monetary figures approximate
Total Military Pay - $261.5 million
Total Civilian Pay - $39 million
Number of Jobs Created - 1,872
Average Annual Salary - $32,441
Total Estimated Value of Jobs Created - $60.7 million
Total Contract Expenditures - $86.5 million
Total Economic Impact - $447.7 million