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'My Turn' Column from Terry Goddard on Luke AFB and Economic Development Trip

(Phoenix, Ariz. -- April 16, 2010) Attorney General Terry Goddard joined other state elected officials and business leaders on an economic development trip to Washington, D.C., April 12-14. He has written the 'My Turn' column below that talks about the trip and especially the delegation's efforts to help Luke Air Force Base be selected as a training base for the next generation of Air Force fighter jets. 


This week I traveled to Washington, D.C., with a group of 60 Arizona business leaders and elected officials to promote economic development in our state. The trip was organized by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). 

Our delegation divided into smaller groups to meet with leaders in a number of areas important to Arizona, including aerospace development, solar power and capital investment. We met with federal agencies, regulatory officials and major companies such as Raytheon and Cushman Wakefield that have a large presence in Arizona. We also had conversations with national media opinion leaders to make sure that despite some of the unfavorable economic news coming from Arizona, they know our state is business-friendly and posed to make a strong recovery.  

A consistent message we heard in our discussions was how critical it was for all of us, and particularly our congressional delegation, to put partisan political differences aside and work together in the best interests of Arizona.  

But no part of the trip was more important than our meetings at the Pentagon with top Air Force and Defense Department officials regarding Luke Air Force Base's bid as a training facility for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.   

Luke is a huge asset for not just Maricopa County or the State of Arizona, but for our entire country.  The base trains most of our nation’s fighter pilots and has some clear  advantages over other bases. Luke enjoys fewer weather interruptions than any other jet training facility; it has superb access to the massive Barry M. Goldwater Range for air-to-ground weapons training; and it maintains auxiliary fields which provide additional training areas for student pilots and an extra margin of safety if a pilot encounters mechanical difficulty.  

Luke's status as one of America's top air bases for the past 60 years gives it an added boost. The base has earned a reputation throughout the Air Force for its warm reception for and support of pilots, other service members and their families.  This strong relation between Luke and the surrounding communities was called into play over the past several years as booming residential development came closer and closer to the base and its auxiliary fields.  The Air Force engaged early, starting 30 years ago to work with city planners and landowners, to minimize the noise impacts and accident potential in the area.  Maps of the impacts were discussed and revised long before housing began to develop in the area.  Cities surrounding the base prided themselves on land use decisions consistent with protecting Luke’s air approaches. 

Our state legislature took steps to make sure that residential encroachment did not threaten the base functions with nine different pieces of legislation. Most recently, a statute was passed in 2004 requiring all jurisdictions bordering military flight facilities in Arizona to adopt general plans that prevent new residential construction in nearby high noise and high accident potential areas.

Unfortunately, Maricopa County continued to issue almost 100 building permits in restricted areas, and I had to file a lawsuit to stop them. Maricopa County Superior Court ruled in the State's favor on nearly every point in the suit, but the county did not drop its legal challenge until we recently settled the dispute with an agreement among the Governor, my Office and the Maricopa County supervisors.

Thanks to this effort to protect the approaches to the base and the auxiliary fields, Luke continues to serve our country superbly. 

Projecting Luke’s mission into the coming decades will require an important transition. The F-16 fighter jets will soon give way in our nation’s defense arsenal to the F-35. Luke must prove to the Air Force and Department of Defense selectors that it meets all the requirements for pilots of this new aircraft and can provide better training conditions than any other base in the country. The selection decision is expected to be announced this summer.

Arizona's team effort to protect and enhance Luke took a big step forward this week with our meetings at the Pentagon.  I joined business leaders and elected officials, including the mayors of Glendale and Mesa, in discussions with top Air Force officers to learn details of the selection procedure and answer their questions.  We were pleased to learn that the Air Force considers the layers of legal protection now in place to protect Luke to be a national model.

We also heard from career officers who have served tours of duty at Luke express positive, deep-seated feelings about the base. Lt. Gen. Philip Breedlove, a former Luke wing commander and now the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, told us with barely disguised emotion how thrilling it was to approach Luke at night and see the lights outlining the runway in a sea of dark, unbroken by the lights of houses or streets.       

Questions we were asked included what effect the F-35 would have on air quality in the area and whether other development permitted under state law could pose problems.  In particular, very tall solar energy towers near several other bases have created concerns about a possible hazard to aviation.  Given Arizona’s interest in maximizing our power from renewable sources, analysis of solar and wind options must be undertaken and military area restrictions put in place promptly. 

In all, the economic development mission made significant progress.  As the first such public-private effort in the more than a decade, we showed a strong, bipartisan, cooperative spirit. The GPEC mission shows we can pull together to make a maximum effort to keep the Air Force flying at Luke AFB for years to come.