Importance of Action
The effects of encroachment on both military installations and surrounding communities will almost certainly become more serious if left unattended. While many federal agencies and programs provide assistance to states and installations that are working to maintain readiness, the responsibility for managing community growth and development rests with state and local governments.
The DOD has long recognized the effects encroachment has on its ability to maintain readiness and has implemented a variety of programs to help states, installations and surrounding communities address and manage these effects. The REPI Program is one that the DOD has continued to expand over the past decade. Created in the 2003 NDAA, REPI is authorized to enter into cost-sharing partnerships with states, local governments and nongovernmental organizations to acquire conservation easements and other land interests that create buffer areas around military installations. Through FY 2022, the DOD has secured $1.24 billion with over $1.13 billion in non-Department partner contributions to protect roughly 1.18 million acres of land at 120 locations across 35 states and territories to preserve key operational assets, infrastructure and capabilities. With expanded authority from Congress, REPI is also funding off-base nature-based solutions, such as wildfire risk mitigation and living shoreline construction, designed to protect critical infrastructure, military personnel, and testing or training operations from the impacts of climate change. The recipient of REPI funds can use such funds as the match or cost-sharing requirement for any conservation or resilience program of any federal agency.
Another DOD office addressing encroachment threats is the Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation (OLDCC), formerly Office of Economic Adjustment. Since 1961, OLDCC has helped communities in all 50 states and several U.S. territories develop comprehensive strategies to adjust to defense industry cutbacks, base closures, force structure realignments, base expansion and incompatibilities between military operations and local development. An example of this working partnership is the Installation Resilience program, which provides technical and financial assistance to states and local governments to study and recommend land use policies designed to balance community and military needs. In more recent years, this program has expanded the technical assistance to include Military Installation Resilience Reviews, encompassing the previous Compatible Use/Joint Land Use Study program as well as the recently authorized Installation Resilience Authority.
The DOD has also been working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, various state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations since 2013 on an initiative called the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership. The partnership aims to advance mutually beneficial land use objectives in designated project areas known as sentinel landscapes. The partnership accomplishes this mission by connecting private landowners in sentinel landscapes with government assistance that offset the cost of implementing sustainable management practices or conservation projects on their properties.
The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership allows states to capitalize on the linkage between national defense, conservation and working lands. Each sentinel landscape is anchored by at least one military installation or range, encompasses agricultural and forested lands, and addresses natural resource restoration and resilience objectives. To date, the partnership has designated 11 locations across the country as sentinel landscapes. States include Arizona, Florida (2), Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. The South Carolina Lowcountry Sentinel Landscape was designated in March 2023. Altogether, sentinel landscape partners have worked with landowners to permanently protect over 610,000 acres of land and implement sustainable management practices on an additional 3.1 million acres around high-value military testing and training areas.
The Georgia Sentinel Landscape has been particularly effective in protecting longleaf pine forests and the gopher tortoise populations that depend on them for habitat. If the tortoise declines to the point of being listed under the Endangered Species Act, DOD installations and ranges throughout the Southeast could be subject to increased regulation leading to mission hindrance and added costs. As a sentinel landscape, partners have been able to collaborate and align resources to acquire conservation easements and expand on current prescribed burn efforts on private lands containing longleaf pine ecosystems—more than could have been realized alone.
Both Minnesota and North Carolina have explored the possibilities of sentinel landscapes through legislation. In 2015, Minnesota House Bill 283 established a coordinating committee to identify lands around Camp Ripley, a premier U.S. National Guard post, that met the criteria of a sentinel landscape. Their efforts resulted in official designation by the Partnership in July 2016. North Carolina’s sentinel landscapes committee (2017 SB 131) is charged with developing programs and strategies that protect working lands in the vicinity major military installations or other areas of strategic benefit to national defense.
Although military installations are federally owned and operated, state legislatures can help support strong and lasting relationships between the military and communities. An increasing number of state legislatures have recognized the importance of protecting test, training and operational mission viability by preventing encroachment and promoting compatible land uses around installations. In addition, states have recognized that these actions have a positive impact on neighboring communities, local economies and wildlife habitat.
NCSL’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs meets several times each year to study these and other military and veterans’ issues of great importance to states. Members of the task force, as well as outside partners, frequently note its importance as a vehicle to enable state legislators to better understand and act on topics of concern to DOD and the military communities in their districts. In addition to full-day policy discussions, the task force conducts site visits at bases around the country to raise awareness among state legislators on mission sustainment issues. Recent visits have included Naval Base Kitsap, Marine Corps Base Hawaii and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Buckley Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The task force has also developed a number of policy resolutions to guide the work of NCSL’s Washington, D.C.-based office in representing the voice of the states in the federal system. These include resolutions to support a funding increase for REPI; clarify and support the use of DOD matching funds; support a permanent tax deduction for conservation easements; preserve federal funding for the National Guard; and support the federal Farmland Protection Program.
NCSL is also involved in disaster resilience, bringing together state legislators, legislative staff and other stakeholders for initiatives such as the State Resilience Policy and Practices Legislative Cohort, Public-Private Partnership on Disaster Mitigation and individual meetings around flood policy, budgeting, insurance, and more.
Land Use Planning
Through land use planning, the military can be assured that its operations will not be jeopardized, while communities can continue to benefit from the jobs and other opportunities the military provides. Although development decisions are made primarily at the local level, the state legislature sets a framework in most states for how local entities carry out land use planning processes.
Communication and Notification
One method states can use to promote compatible land use near military installations is to include all involved parties in the planning process. Many states have given the military the opportunity to participate in local land use planning, which helps local officials understand the effects of incompatible development on quality of life in communities and on military operations. At least 18 states require at a minimum that local governments notify nearby military installations of proposed land use changes. This formalized process can strengthen lines of communication and help avoid any unintentional conflicts. Methods for including the military in local land use planning include creating or expanding procedural requirements to provide military installations with notice of proposed land use changes; creating a mechanism for the military to make comments on proposed land use changes; and allowing for military representation on state or local zoning boards.
The North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation in 2013 requiring local governments to provide written notice to the installation commander of proposed changes to a zoning ordinance between 10 and 25 days before a public hearing if the change would affect the permitted uses of land located within five miles of a military base. If the military provides comments regarding the ordinance’s compatibility with military operations at the base, the board of commissioners must consider the comments and analysis before making a final determination on the ordinance.
In 2016, New Jersey bolstered notice provisions contained in its Municipal Land Use Law and the State Planning Act to facilitate a greater exchange of information between military installations, the state and local governments. Specifically, Senate Bill 1992 requires the Military and Defense Economic Ombudsman to encourage military installation commanders and local stakeholders to maintain open lines of communication and engage in long-term strategic planning, including Joint Land Use Studies.
Incorporation into Local Land Use Plans
States delegate to local governments the responsibility to develop and implement land use planning documents and zoning regulations. “Comprehensive plans,” also known as general plans or master plans, are the foundation for local land use planning and serve as a blueprint for the growth and development of a community over time. In most cases, a comprehensive plan consists of diagrams or maps illustrating the location of existing land uses, as well as written text outlining development goals for a range of uses such as housing, transportation, utilities and recreation. While planning occurs at the local level, states play a role in directing the planning process. Most states require local governments to complete a comprehensive plan, although some are more prescriptive than others in regard to its content.
Local planning and zoning ordinances can be used to resolve land use issues near military bases, and state legislatures can require that lands near boundaries of these areas be set aside only for compatible uses. At least 12 states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin—require or encourage municipalities to anticipate future growth patterns near military installations and include policies or guidelines to account for this growth in their comprehensive plans. This type of proactive land use planning can help channel new growth into appropriate areas and enhance communication with nearby military installations.
Legislatures in California and Kentucky recognized the need for more consistent land use planning around military installations in the early 2000s. Laws in both states require local governments to consider the effects of future growth on military activities in their planning documents and obtain information from military authorities to accurately determine the needs of each installation. Municipal master plans in New Jersey must contain existing and proposed locations of military facilities and incorporate strategies to minimize encroachment. Other states are less descriptive, yet still encourage some consideration of installation needs.
State agencies can also take military needs into account as they develop long-term plans. For example, Colorado enacted legislation in 2016 requiring regulators to identify and consider the transportation infrastructure needs of military installations in the statewide transportation plan.
Compatible Land Use Requirements
State legislatures also can require local governments to restrict or prohibit incompatible development around installations and military airports. At least nine states—Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Washington—have such laws.
Most laws address the importance of preventing certain land uses near military airfields or airports. For example, South Dakota authorizes municipalities to adopt zoning regulations around military airports to prevent creation of a military airport hazard, defined as any structure that obstructs the air space required for taking off or landing or that interferes with systems used for tracking or acquiring data. Regulations may specify the land uses permitted and regulate the type, density and height of structures in the area.
In addition to military airports, a 2018 Missouri law relates to zoning around National Guard training centers (House Bill 1504). It allows counties to adopt ordinances regulating incompatible land uses and structures within all or any portion of the unincorporated area extending up to 3,000 feet from the boundaries of any National Guard training center if the county has participated in a joint land use study. Regulations may affect density, lot size, outdoor lighting, land use, construction standards and subdivision of land.
Other states encourage compatible land use development around all military facilities. Under North Carolina’s Military Lands Protection Act, no municipality is permitted to authorize construction of a tall building or structure in any area surrounding a major military installation unless otherwise certified by the Building Code Council. The law instructs the council to deny applications for certification where construction of the building would encroach upon the mission, training or operations of an installation and result in a detriment to continued military presence in the state. The law also allows for civil penalties and prohibits providing certain utility services to any building constructed in violation of the law.
Utah enacted legislation in 2023 (HB 265) requiring municipalities and counties to develop a compatible use plan to ensure proposed land uses within a certain distance of military land are compatible with military uses. The state department of veterans and military affairs must be notified of land use applications relevant to military land and have the opportunity to evaluate the proposed land use for compatibility with military operations.
Still other options exist for encouraging compatible land use. Illinois grants any county with a U.S. Air Force installation of a certain size the authority to control the use of land around the airport to protect the safety of the community. The county’s authority is limited to the area designated in the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone Study. If the municipality approves a land use that is incompatible with the Air Force study, the law gives the county the option to use eminent domain to acquire the affected land.
Special Designation for Military Areas
Several states have existing statutory authority to assign an elevated status in planning documents to certain types of land. Development within these “areas of critical state concern” is monitored by state agencies and local governments to ensure that each proposed use is compatible with the land’s unique traits. Most lands protected in this manner are environmentally sensitive regions such as wetlands, aquatic preserves and wilderness areas, one of the earliest and largest being Adirondack Park in New York. Other states with statutes designating environmentally sensitive regions as areas of concern include California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Vermont and Wyoming. Some of these states—such as California, Florida and Minnesota—also protect areas with historic, archaeological or aesthetic significance.
To prevent uncontrolled development, military bases and operating areas can be recognized as critical areas and state legislatures can require that lands near boundaries of these areas be set aside only for compatible uses. At least three states—Indiana, Kansas and Montana—have laws to this effect. Indiana enacted Senate Bill 332 in 2023 establishing a state area of interest comprised of land within three miles of certain military installations and/or within a military impact zoning district, i.e. an area adversely impacted by the effects of military operations. The law makes planning, zoning and development activity in a state area of interest subject to the military installation commander’s determination regarding the activity’s impact on military operations.
Kansas law designates areas located either wholly or partially within defined military zones as “state areas of interest” vital to national security and the economic well-being of the state. The law requires representatives of military installations and municipalities to meet at least annually to determine whether any portion of the area of interest can be classified as a “critical area,” defined as any area where future use is determined jointly between the military installation and the municipality. Critical areas should be managed to reduce potential conflicts due to competing uses.
Montana’s law allows municipalities to designate “military affected areas,” which can include land used for military purposes as well as land near and installation. The law establishes a permit system for all land use changes within military affected areas and prevents granting permits for incompatible uses. Several counties have designated military affected areas in the past five years.
The increased frequency and severity of natural disasters nationwide has affected military installations vulnerable to flooding, wildfire and drought. State policies that facilitate planning, generate funding or prioritize nature-based solutions can help installations and communities prevent, prepare for, and recover from extreme weather events. Traditional built or “gray” infrastructure also plays a role in preparing for and lessoning the impact of severe climate events.
As states face increasing costs from the broad range of impacts related to natural disasters, many are taking a more strategic approach and creating offices to better coordinate their efforts. At least 16 states and the District of Columbia have designated a chief resilience officer (CRO) and/or created a resiliency office. Many CROs were created following a disaster (ex. Hurricane Florence in North Carolina in 2018) as states looked to have a singular point of contact for distribution of funds and other recovery tasks. Other CROs were created and tasked with designing resilience plans, as was the case in Virginia, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Resiliency offices also exist in major metropolitan areas, including Austin, Honolulu and New York City.
CROs and their offices play a key role in tackling the complex issues involved in resilience planning, risk management and implementation. The Colorado Resiliency Office is housed in the Department of Local Affairs, a unique agency among states that is tasked with strengthening local communities. The office relies on a systems-based definition of resiliency: “the ability of communities to rebound, positively adapt to, or thrive amidst changing condition or challenges, including human-caused and natural disasters, and to maintain quality of life, healthy growth, durable systems, economic vitality, and conservation of resources for present and future generations” (2018 HB 1394). In 2020, the office finalized an updated Colorado Resilience Framework to provide a roadmap to the state for a more resilient future. They also offer a Resiliency Playbook for state agencies, a Resiliency Dashboard to measure and manage data, a Rural Prosperity strategy, and many other resources. In 2022, the legislature passed a bill continuing the office for 15 years (HB 1225).
Lawmakers in South Carolina enacted Senate Bill 259 in 2020, moving the Disaster Recovery Office from the state Department of Administration and incorporating it into the new South Carolina Office of Resilience within the governor’s office. The office is led by a CRO appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. The bill also established a Resilience Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest loans to eligible entities to carry out buyout programs for properties that have experienced repetitive flood loss or to complete floodplain restoration projects.
States have also taken steps to establish their own funding mechanisms for resiliency efforts through legislative action. For example, Florida lawmakers enacted bipartisan legislation in 2022 (HB 7053) establishing the Statewide Office of Resilience within the Executive Office of the Governor and making substantial changes to its Resilience Florida Grant Program. The law authorized the use of funds to support preconstruction activities for projects in municipalities and counties of a certain size. “Preconstruction activities” occur before construction begins, including, but not limited to, design, permitting, and surveys and data collection. Colorado created two new funding programs in 2022, one providing loans and grants for home and business rebuilding following a natural disaster, and the other covering costs for disaster victims to rebuild to certain standards as determined by the Colorado Energy Office (SB 206).
In addition, the federal government has several funding mechanisms which enable states to build and maintain critical infrastructure, including dams, bridges, electric grid infrastructure and buildings, to withstand the impacts of natural disasters. By leveraging federal funding for disaster mitigation, states can strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities and build infrastructure to withstand future disasters.
Many of the federal funding resources can also potentially be leveraged, layered and used simultaneously with other federal or non-federal sources of funds. For example, federal law permits a state that receives funding from the DOD REPI Program to use such funds as the match or cost-sharing requirement for any conservation or resilience program of any federal agency.
The following is an abbreviated list of federal funding programs that may be of interest to states.
While infrastructure is often thought of as manmade structures and buildings, it can also include naturally occurring features, such as tidal marshes that slow the rate of erosion or healthy forests that reduce the risk of wildfires. Nature-based solutions, also known as natural or green infrastructure, can create an initial line-of-defense for DOD’s built infrastructure by amplifying existing ecological benefits in a cost-effective and sustainable way. Constructing living shorelines, building retention berms, conducting soil rehabilitation, enhancing riparian buffers and recharging aquifers are just some examples of effective nature-based solutions.
- California (2021 AB 72): Requires the Natural Resources Agency to explore and implement options to establish a more coordinated and efficient regulatory review and permitting process for coastal adaptation projects that use natural infrastructure.
- Florida (2021 SB 976): Creates incentives and funding mechanisms for the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Protects wildlife and wildlife habitats, while also providing ecological connectivity of lands needed for flood and sea level rise resiliency and large-scale ecosystem functions, such as water management and prescribed burns essential for land management and restoration.
- Virginia (2022 HB 516): Requires the Coastal Resilience Master Plan to be updated at least every five years with language recognizing the importance of protecting and enhancing natural infrastructure and nature-based approaches to flood mitigation.
Arizona is making investments to benefit the military mission. Located in the Sonoran Desert, Fort Huachuca is home to premier restricted military airspace for unmanned aircraft system training, as well as the Buffalo Soldier Electronic Test Range and electromagnetic complex, supporting training for personnel across the Services. An increase in urban sprawl, electronic interference, dangerous wildfires, and drought has stressed the installation’s water supply and overall mission. In response, the Arizona Land and Water Trust conducted an analysis of groundwater levels and surface flows, a survey of current irrigation and water use, and a comprehensive review of historic pumping records and water rights. It provided several recommendations to address groundwater deficits in the Upper San Pedro Basin, which will strengthen water security for Fort Huachuca and the surrounding communities. In 2020, Fort Huachuca received over $2 million in REPI Challenge funding to protect more than 2,000 acres of working ranches and forests and mitigate wildfire risk.
Compatible Energy Development
As states increase renewable energy capacity and related electrical transmission to meet demand and fulfill renewable portfolio standards, the expansion into previously undeveloped land may affect the military mission. While renewable energy can bring benefits to both military and civilian communities, its development may have unintended impacts on military operations by interfering with communication, airspace and test and training ranges. Often, potential impacts can occur miles from a planned development and the effects are not always apparent to developers or civilian communities.
Renewable energy facilities and transmission lines can impact low-level flight or nighttime exercises if they are located near training routes and special use or restricted airspace. Wind turbines can interfere with surveillance, air traffic control and other radar systems. High-voltage transmission lines have the potential to create electromagnetic interference, ultimately degrading military communication and navigation. Furthermore, solar systems may present hazards for air operations due to possible “glint” or longer duration “glare” reflecting off panels.
Although the DOD is a strong proponent of renewable energy, the department must ensure that wind turbines, solar panels and other infrastructure located on or near military installations are compatible with test and training activities. This need for compatibility is becoming increasingly imperative as renewable energy investment grows due to state renewable energy targets, increased demand and financial incentives.
With these considerations in mind, Congress directed the establishment of the DOD Siting Clearinghouse in 2011, renamed the Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse (the clearinghouse) in 2018. The Clearinghouse works to overcome risks to national security while promoting compatible domestic energy development. It serves as the single point of contact for federal agencies; state, local and tribal governments; developers; and landowners, and provides timely, transparent reviews of proposed energy projects to prevent or minimize operational impacts. Communication, early and often, is critical to ensure appropriate resolution of concerns that support both developers and the military.
The clearinghouse reviews of thousands of projects, the vast majority of which are found to have minimal impact on military operations and readiness. When compatibility concerns are identified, the clearinghouse works with the energy proponent to identify reasonable and affordable impact mitigation solutions. For example, the clearinghouse and a developer reached an agreement in Oklahoma recently to allow modified siting of wind turbines to lessen impacts on Sheppard Air Force Base, just over the border in Texas. This process is designed to be collaborative, rather than to deliver a final DOD position. A library of relevant reports and copies of all signed mitigation agreements are available on the clearinghouse website.
At the state level, legislatures are working to prevent and mitigate energy-related encroachment on military installations early in the siting process to reduce costs, streamline the permitting process and preserve the military mission. Encroachment is often unintentional, and state and local siting authorities may not be aware of the need to include military operations in planning discussions.
Energy-related encroachment may also be exacerbated by differences in states’ siting authorities. At least 22 states authorize energy projects, such as wind turbines, at the county or municipal level, rather than through a state permitting office. Other states take a hybrid approach that involves approvals at the state and local levels. For example, in Minnesota, the Public Utilities Commission is the primary state-level agency responsible for larger wind facilities, while siting decisions over smaller facilities are left to local governments.
Legislatures can ensure compatibility of new energy projects with military operations through several processes, including early notification and inclusion of the DOD, ensuring any conflicts are resolved before completing permitting and construction, and adopting planning guidelines or siting ordinances with maps of military mission conflict areas. These measures can save states and localities from unplanned mitigation expenses and permitting obstacles.
Oklahoma has adopted comprehensive measures to increase coordination with military installations, beginning in 2018 with passage of Senate Bill 1576. The bill prohibited the construction or operation of a wind energy facility from encroaching upon or having a significant adverse impact on the mission, training or operations of any military installation or branch of the military as determined by the Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Areas of impact may include military training routes, drop zones, and approaches to runways and bombing ranges. The bill required a Determination of No Hazard from the FAA or an approved mitigation plan from DOD prior to any construction or expansion. It also required notice to the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission of intent to build a wind energy facility, at which point local base commanders and the DOD Clearinghouse would also be notified. The following year, the legislature extended the restriction around wind energy facilities not encroaching upon the military mission to include individual wind turbines. Lawmakers also added requirements for information sharing between developers and regulatory agencies and authorized an administrative penalty for non-compliance (House Bill 2118). Alabama enacted similar legislation in 2021 (SB 80), ensuring that local governments give military installations notice and an opportunity to review any proposed tall structure or wind energy facility prior to approval.
Oregon is also involving the DOD Clearinghouse early in the process. Legislation enacted in 2021 directs the state department of energy to gather input from the DOD and many others on the effects of integrating up to three gigawatts of floating offshore wind energy into Oregon’s electric grid on reliability, state renewable energy goals, jobs, equity and resilience (HB 3375).
Wind turbines near nuclear missile launch facilities can also present conflicts as helicopters attempt to provide overhead security in these sensitive locations. Wyoming addressed this in 2020 with Senate Bill 36, which requires that the military be notified and prevents development within two nautical miles unless certain documentation is provided.
Finally, legislatures can also collaborate with military entities on renewable energy research and development or assist with military self-generation goals by streamlining the process for renewable energy facilities on military lands. For example, Hawaii enacted House Bill 1513 in 2015, which established a program to provide matching funds for entities that have contracted with DOD’s Office of Naval Research on renewable energy and development. Several states, including Kansas, Utah and Vermont, have enacted legislation in recent years to provide financial incentives or regulatory policies for increased use of renewable energy at military installations.
Protecting land around a military installation can buffer military training and testing operations from residential development and other incompatible uses. Open space also maintains habitat for threatened and endangered species. These natural landscapes can be maintained through land acquisition and conservation easements.
At least five states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia—provide regular funding for land acquisition in the vicinity of military installations struggling with encroachment. These programs operate with an understanding that the state’s conservation goals often overlap with those of the Department of Defense.
Since its creation in 1996 by the General Assembly, North Carolina’s Land and Water Fund has conserved over 500,000 acres and protected or restored 3,000 miles of streams and rivers. The fund also supports creation of buffers around military bases, awarding over $6 million to 11 such projects in 2021. In addition, the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, created in 2005, supports farming, forestry, and horticulture communities, which the state recognizes as compatible with military training.
Similarly, the Florida Forever program provides funding to state agencies and local governments for acquisition of conservation lands, some of which serve as a buffer around military installations. Since its inception in 2001, the program has acquired almost 870,000 acres of land. One of the more recent acquisitions in 2021 involved 2,115 acres around Whiting Field Naval Air Station. The project creates a buffer around the base, while also preserving forest lands and protecting the local watershed. Florida law also allows for acquisition of non-conservation lands to buffer military installations from encroachment. In 2018, the legislature authorized the Division of State Land to acquire lands from an annual list provided by the Department of Economic Opportunity and the Florida Defense Support Task Force (SB 1173).
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program is relatively new, created by the General Assembly in 2017 and approved by the voters in 2018. The program provides a dedicated funding mechanism to support parks and trails and protect and acquire lands critical to wildlife, clean water, outdoor recreation and military installation buffering across the state.
Just as military activities are threatened by unchecked growth and development, so too are nearby working lands and wildlife habitat. Lands used for farming, ranching and forestry are vital to sustaining agricultural productivity, safeguarding natural resources and maintaining a rural way of life. Although states have implemented a wide variety of programs to preserve working landscapes, the United States still loses one million acres of farmland to development each year. In addition, the loss of wildlife habitat is transforming military bases into unlikely refuges for more than 400 threatened and endangered species.
Easements—defined as voluntary, legal agreements between landowners and government agencies or other entities that define the use of land in order to protect its agricultural or conservation values—also can be used to protect land around military installations. Lands protected through an easement can include the following: working farm, ranch or forestland; scenic vistas; wildlife habitat; watershed areas and historic sites. Millions of acres of private land in the United States are currently under conservation easements.
An easement can be an attractive option for a landowner who wishes to protect his or her land for future generations without giving up private ownership. Easements also offer great flexibility, tailoring restrictions to the needs of individual landowners and the unique features of the property. Landowners can benefit financially through federal and state tax credits designed to compensate those who choose to donate an easement, rather than sell it. At least 15 states—Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina and Virginia—and Puerto Rico offer a conservation easement tax credit, allowing landowners to claim up to 50 percent of the fair market value of land donated to a government agency or private land trust. Five states—Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, South Carolina and Virginia—allow credits to be transferred to individuals or corporations with high tax liability, generating immediate income for the donor.
At least 19 states—California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming—have funding programs to help state agencies and local governments purchase conservation easements. Other states, including some mentioned above, also have agricultural conservation easement programs to protect important farmland. Pennsylvania is a leader in farmland preservation, having conserved more than 545,000 acres since 1988.
Landowners may also qualify for preferential treatment in the assessment of property taxes in several states. In Maine, North Carolina and Vermont, for example, property taxes for agriculture and forest lands are based on the value of the land in its current use, rather than market value. This method allows for valuation of land based on the actual use of the property, rather than what the use might be if the property were sold or developed. This results in tax savings for the landowner. Vermont landowners have enrolled more than 18,400 parcels of qualifying forestland and farmland, about one-third of the state’s total land area.
Florida ties the purchase of conservation easements to protection of military installations. Florida Forever, described earlier, encourages purchase of conservation easements in addition to outright purchase of property, largely because of the easement’s lower cost to the public and ability to allow private landowners to retain ownership. The state has purchased numerous conservation easements during the past decade, including in June 2013 when they acquired a 20,850-acre easement for property adjacent to Eglin Air Force Base. The land is owned and managed by a private citizen; under terms of the easement, however, it will not be developed into new residential or commercial uses that could impede the base’s mission. In 2020, $79 million in Florida Forever funds conserved nearly 32,000 acres of land from the Florida Panhandle to Southwest Florida in a series of seven transactions.
All states except North Dakota have laws that enable creation of conservation easements. Enabling legislation typically describes the methods of creation and duration of the easement and establishes procedures for public review, registration, amendment and termination. Most states allow any federal, state or local government body to hold easements. Non-governmental entities, such as land trusts and other nonprofit conservation organizations, are also permitted to hold easements. Most easements remain with the property even if it is sold or passed to heirs, thus binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to easement conditions. The entity that holds the easement is responsible for monitoring and enforcing its terms.
Real Estate Disclosure
Many communities take great pride in having a military presence nearby. However, the noise, smoke, light and other disruptions can come as a shock to potential homebuyers. State laws can assist potential buyers or renters of property near military installations in making information decisions in light of these circumstances. Disclosures also serve as a valuable deterrent to incompatible development. At least six states—Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Texas and Virginia—require or encourage real estate disclosures in military areas.
Arizona law requires owners of property located within defined “high noise and accident potential zones” to notify potential buyers, renters or lessees that the property is located in the zone and is subject to certain requirements under the law. The state also requires this type of disclosure on land under military training routes and restricted air space. To facilitate this process, the state real estate department and affected municipalities maintain a registry of information containing maps of military flight operations and a list of individuals who are familiar with flight operations at each airport.
Texas mandated real estate disclosure in 2017 (House Bill 890). The law requires sellers of residential property to notify buyers that the property “may be located near a military installation and may be affected by high noise or installation compatible use zones or other operations.” The notice must inform the buyer that more information can be found in the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone Study or Joint Land Use Study prepared for the installation and provide relevant links.
Indiana lawmakers passed Senate Bill 332 in 2023 requiring a disclosure that property is located near a military installation, within a state area of interest, and may be impacted to some degree by the effects of the installation's military operations and that local laws may restrict use and development of the property to promote compatibility with military installation operations.
Communities adjacent to military bases frequently experience high levels of noise that can affect residents’ health, welfare and quality of life. Aircraft flights, ordnance detonations, combat engineering demolitions and artillery use are a few of the activities that can disrupt daily life in the vicinity of a military installation. The DOD works to reduce these adverse effects by promoting noise education and training, leveraging resources to ensure coordination among the military and other federal agencies, and promoting outreach to those affected by noise from military activities. The DOD established its Noise Program and the Defense Noise Working Group to address the far-reaching effects of noise generated by military activities, understanding that proactive communication and collaborative land use planning in cooperation with state and local governments can reduce or prevent impacts on the military’s ability to carry out its testing and training missions.
States can minimize the effects of noise on surrounding communities by requiring that new developments adhere to prescribed sound attenuation standards. These standards often require use of soundproofing techniques, such as building thicker walls or using additional insulation, to reduce the intensity of exterior noise.
An Arizona law enacted in 1996 requires municipalities that have territory in the vicinity of a military airport to institute sound attenuation standards for newly constructed residential houses and certain public buildings. In 2004, the Legislature extended the scope of the law to include ancillary military facilities at Luke Air Force Base and Yuma Marine Corps Air Station. Virginia enacted similar legislation in 2005, allowing municipalities to adopt regulations requiring use of “acoustical treatment measures” for residential buildings in areas affected by above-average noise levels due to their proximity to a military airport. In developing the regulations, a locality may adopt one or more noise overlay zones as an amendment to its zoning map and may establish various measures to be installed within each zone, depending on the severity of aircraft noise.
With the use of night-vision equipment, a significant portion of military training is now conducted at night. These exercises simulate combat situations, helping troops develop their situational awareness and ultimately minimize casualties. But increasing urbanization, combined with the excessive and inefficient use of light, has created a kind of pollution that can interfere with military training and lead to numerous other disturbances.
At least 19 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws in place to reduce light pollution. The majority of states that have enacted so-called “dark skies” legislation have done so to promote energy conservation, public safety, aesthetic interests and astronomical research capabilities. Municipalities in a number of states have also been active on this issue, adopting light pollution regulations as part of their zoning codes.
Most state laws are limited to outdoor lighting fixtures installed on the grounds of a state building or facility or on a public roadway. The most common dark skies legislation requires the installation of shielded light fixtures that only emit light downward. Replacement of unshielded with fully shielded lighting units often allows for use of a lower wattage bulb, resulting in energy savings. Other laws require the use of low-glare or low-wattage lighting, regulate the amount of time that certain lighting can be used, and incorporate Illuminating Engineering Society guidelines into state regulations.
Known as a worldwide hub for astronomy, Arizona’s light pollution law dates back to 1986. The law requires all outdoor light fixtures to be fully or partially shielded, with the exception of emergency, construction and navigational airport lighting. Fixtures not in compliance must be extinguished by automatic device between the hours of midnight and sunrise.
Other states have sought to encourage local action. New Hampshire, for example, has made it a priority to preserve dark skies as a feature of rural character. In addition, the effect of beachfront lighting on avian and marine life is a concern in many coastal states. In Florida, a statewide model lighting ordinance guides local governments in developing policies to protect hatching sea turtles.
Texas is the only state with a law specifically aimed at reducing light pollution around military installations. In 2007, the legislature authorized counties, at the request of the military, to adopt measures governing the use of outdoor lighting within five miles of a military installation. Counties may accomplish this goal in a number of ways: (1) require that a permit be obtained before installing certain types of lighting; (2) prohibit the use of particular lighting fixtures; (3) establish requirements for the shielding of outdoor lighting; or (4) regulate the times during which certain types of lighting may be used.
In 2011, Missouri lawmakers considered, but did not pass, the Night Sky Protection Act, which would have reduced the amount of light emitted into the night sky in designated military training areas and would have required the state Air Conservation Commission to develop voluntary guidelines to achieve specified standards by 2050. A similar bill was considered in Kansas in 2009.
State investments in defense communities can support projects related to infrastructure, job creation and retention, compatible land use planning and improvements to public services. Grants or loans also may be used to conduct studies, develop plans in support of a proposed project, or satisfy the “match” requirement to unlock additional federal funds. In most cases, funding comes from general appropriations or bond sales. At least 19 states have some type of grant or loan program in place. States have also provided funding for infrastructure improvements at local bases and made one-time appropriations for various purposes.
The Florida Legislature established both the Defense Reinvestment Grant Program and the Defense Infrastructure Grant Program in 1999, offering financial assistance to defense communities for projects that not only benefit nearby bases, but stimulate the local economy as well. Since then, millions of dollars have been distributed to community-based activities that bolster military facilities, support economic diversification for defense-dependent communities, and improve military-community relations. In 2021, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida awarded a combined $2.4 million to communities throughout Florida through these programs. Funds will support 15 distinct projects, including Hurricane Michael rebuilding efforts, purchase of easements to protect training capabilities, and various economic development opportunities. Another $1 million was awarded to the city of Jacksonville and Clay County through the Florida Defense Support Task Force Grant Program. Both projects are focused on buffering local bases and airfields from incompatible development.
Washington lawmakers created the Defense Community Compatibility Account in 2019 with passage of Senate Bill 5748. According to the program webpage, it provides the first statewide framework for evaluating and prioritizing projects that enhance the economy, environment and quality of life opportunities for local communities affected by the presence of military installations. Potential projects will be funneled through a central evaluation process with the goal of presenting a list of vetted, eligible finalists to the legislature for funding.
Projects that enhance military value are not limited to infrastructure. Georgia’s Defense Community Economic Development Fund offered grants in 2021 for projects that would enhance the workforce development support provided to military personnel and/or their spouses at local military installations. This effort recognizes the importance of financial stability for military families and the impact it has on the ability to recruit and train an all-volunteer force.
Mississippi is using a unique funding source to support compatible land use. The Outdoor Stewardship Fund was created in 2022 to provide grants to counties, municipalities, state agencies and NGOs for various purposes, including protection of land around military installations to ensure that missions are compatible with surrounding communities and that encroachment on military installations does not impair future missions (HB 606).
At least four states—Alaska, Georgia, Maryland and Texas—have taken a somewhat different approach, creating “military zones” to extend state and federal incentives to enterprises that support the state’s military presence. For example, the Alaska Legislature enacted legislation in 2012 creating “military facility zones” that enable communities to create tax incentives for business development related to military activities and stimulate local economic activity. The first and only military facility zone in the state is located in the city of North Pole, outside Eielson Air Force Base. In September 2021, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation announced a special loan to expand housing development for a growing population of military personnel and families.
Georgia’s zone program is focused on creating jobs in economically distressed areas of the state. The Job Tax Credit Program provides benefits to specified census tracts which are considered less developed or have a high rate of poverty. A military zone designation was added in 2004, allowing census tracts located adjacent to military bases to receive the highest benefit level. Businesses can earn a tax credit up to $3,500 for each full-time employee hired.
Defense communities can also take advantage of relatively new statutory authority, enacted as part of the FY 2013 defense authorization act, allowing installations to enter into intergovernmental support agreements with states and local governments to share a variety of municipal services. Partnerships can increase base efficiency around water, energy, transportation, security and emergency services. They can also support military personnel and their families in the areas of recreation, children’s services, libraries and housing.
Naval Weapons Station Earle was awarded $2 million through the 2020 REPI Challenge to fund an intergovernmental support agreement with the state of New Jersey. The agreement and funding support beach nourishment, living shoreline establishment, storm surge protection and stormwater management, thereby enhancing the resilience of DOD installations and their communities in an area that sustained catastrophic damage after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The base is also working with surrounding Monmouth County on various resilience tasks under a separate shared services agreement.
The state of Texas entered into an intergovernmental support agreement with the DOD in January 2023 to improve infrastructure and transportation networks on federal military property. Specifically, the agreement authorizing the state department of transportation to complete roadway maintenance and repair projects as well as purchase bulk materials through a state-federal partnership. This is expected to decrease project lead time, reduce civilian staff burden, and result in an estimated cost savings of 25% to all participating military installations.
In addition to these programs, a number of states have made one-time investments or authorized other types of spending for improvements both on and off-base.
For example, legislators in Massachusetts approved a $177 million bond bill in 2014 for infrastructure improvements at six military installations. The projects were designed to expand public and private sector growth for localities surrounding each installation and enhance the value of the facilities in support of national and domestic security goals. That same year, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation allowing local governments to spend money in direct support of an active military base. Funds are to be used for the promotion, growth and activities of the base, as well as any entity that provides services to the base.
Other states have made one-time appropriations. The South Carolina Military Base Task Force, for example, distributed $50,000 in March 2013 to each of the state’s four military communities to support ongoing base preservation efforts. The Missouri General Assembly also enacted legislation in 2013, allocating $300,000 to analyze the effects of the state’s military installations on the nation’s military readiness and economy. In 2021, Pennsylvania lawmakers appropriated over $2 million for the prevention of military base realignment and closure (Senate Bill 255).
As the DOD continues to adjust to a changing national security environment, state-level proactive strategies will become even more critical to the sustainability of military operations and defense communities. This report is intended to provide state legislatures with an overview of state responsibilities and related policy options to strengthen the relationship between bases and surrounding communities and ensure a suitable environment for military operations. No single solution exists to prevent encroachment. However, states may wish to consider the options presented in this report in tandem with state and local views about land use, economic development, private property rights or other issues of concern. With these strategies in mind, states can work to secure the future of their military installations and ensure that communities continue to benefit from the jobs and business