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New military noise study may shape developments around Charleston military bases

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A new Air Force study recalibrated how noise levels around Joint Base Charleston are calculated in an effort to help cities decide how to develop around military bases in the state. File/Andrew Whitaker/Staff

There's less noise today coming from the C-17 cargo jets at Charleston Air Force Base than there was the last time it was studied in 2004.

That's because the Air Force is operating fewer flight operations around Joint Base Charleston due to a diminishing war on terror.

It's also because aircraft engines are more efficient than the last time a noise study was completed in 2004 — and the Air Force has changed how it calculates noise pollution. 

Those are some of the findings from a new study that looked at how noise around the base should be taken into consideration by some of the communities around the site as they look to build and expand toward it. 

April Gray, program manager for the recently released Air Installations Compatible Use Zones study, said the new method of calculating noise pollution will be used to improve future developments.

"We knew a lot of development had happened in the area and the area is blooming," she said. "It's our way of being transparent of how we fly as an Air Force, and these are recommended ways to develop the land."

The AICUZ study developed a noise contour — or an average noise pollution over a 24-hour period — of military flights and found it had shrunk from the last study. 

David Caimbeul, community planner for the Air Force at Joint Base Charleston, said the new noise contours are in place to help municipalities plan and create spaces throughout the Lowcountry, and better understand how military use will impact those spaces.

It's a new way for communities to analyze the economic impact of developing on or near Joint Base Charleston or the North Auxiliary Airfield in Orangeburg County. 

Joint Base Charleston has an estimated $8.7 billion impact in South Carolina — $6.6 billion of which is focused in the tri-county area. Compatible zoning recommendations with the new noise contour range from less than 65 to over 85 decibels to determine if an area would be negatively impacted by military aircraft noise.

This, Caimbeul said, is what will be given to the surrounding municipalities who may want to develop land around the base. 

While the study only poses recommendations for how municipalities should zone land around the bases, Gray said the study is a step forward in increasing the Air Force's transparency in nearby communities.  

Col. Terrence Adams, commander of Joint Base Charleston, said he hopes to use the study to help residents better understand both commercial and military aviation.

"A lot of times people hear the noise, so that's probably the main thing people are interested in," he said.

In briefing community leaders on the study's findings, Adams said there has already been interest in developing a shared, joint-use firing range adjacent to Joint Base Charleston that's also a partnership with the city and county. 

"I want to be out in the community doing more of that so we can find win-wins," he said.

Gwen Moultrie, head of the North Charleston planning and zoning department, said in a statement the city and Joint Base Charleston have had ongoing discussions about zoning and height specifications for construction while keeping in mind the recommendations of the study. 

"There is a longstanding agreement in place between the City and the Base that has Planning and Zoning providing Joint Base Charleston with copies of site plans involving new construction in the Tanger (Outlets) area," she said.

Moultrie's statement did not elaborate on any potential new construction.

Hanahan Mayor Christie Rainwater said that while she hasn't been approached about any specific partnership, the study's release and an increased effort on the part of the Air Force to be more transparent can only be a positive going forward. 

"It's more about the relationships we're establishing," she said. "When bumps arise, you know who to talk to, and it hasn't always been like that."

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Contact Conner Mitchell at 843-958-1336. Follow him on Twitter at @ConnerMitchell0.

Conner Mitchell is a Kansas native covering Berkeley and Dorchester counties for The Post and Courier. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and has worked previously at the Kansas City Star, Lawrence Journal-World and Palm Beach Post.

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