At first glance, great news

Published 8:19 pm Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Navy’s proposed use of Franklin Municipal Airport for practice landings of its turboprop aircraft sounds like a win-win partnership.

The Navy gets to train its pilots in the region rather than sending them to Florida, and the airport and city government get a badly needed boost for their coffers, which will be hit hard by the loss of revenue from International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill, putting even more pressure on homeowners to cover the cost of city services.

The devil is often in the details, though, and city government owes it to the citizens of Franklin to proceed carefully and transparently with its negotiations with the Navy.

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First, the city and Navy should demonstrate to residents of Franklin and the surrounding area — a stone’s throw across the Blackwater River from the airport — that the noise is bearable. Turboprop noise is nothing like jet noise and should sound a lot like what people who live close to the airport already hear when small planes come and go. Obviously, there will be a lot more of it.

The city should schedule and publicize demonstration flights and landings of the precise variety that would occur if the Navy were to train here. Residents in affected areas should know exactly what the noise level will be like when they are in their back yards at 2 o’clock in the afternoon or in their living rooms at 9 o’clock at night. There should be no rude surprises when the real training commences down the road.

The City Council also should make public the terms of its proposed financial agreement with the Navy well in advance of a final vote and hold a public hearing so that citizens can have input. Many of the early negotiations will necessarily occur behind closed doors, but the final product should be thoroughly vetted by the citizenry before a contract is signed.

Based on what we know so far, the partnership should mutually benefit the military, the city and the airport. City leaders shouldn’t accept that premise blindly, however, nor expect their constituents to.

— The Tidewater News