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Mapping a strategy: Land use study looks to avoid conflicts between Fort Harrison, civilian life

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Land use study looks to avoid conflicts between Fort Harrison, civilian life

Rick Lamach, master planner with the Department of Military Affairs, said Fort Harrison's neighbors have concerns ranging from noise issues to vibration from helicopters. Officials are working on "neighbor friendly protocol," he said. 

A federal grant awarded to Lewis and Clark County will help carry out recommendations in a study that provides strategies aimed at addressing compatibility between Fort Harrison and local communities.

The $250,000 federal grant will serve as funding for the study. The contract for the study was awarded on Thursday to Robert Peccia & Associates, a Helena-based company providing services that include civil engineering, planning and surveying.

The contract extends through March 2017.

The county received three proposals, which were scored before two teams were interviewed and Peccia & Associates was selected.

Work on the Joint Land Use Study began in the summer of 2013 with public outreach efforts, and brought together representatives from Fort Harrison, the city of Helena and both Broadwater, and Lewis and Clark counties.

Peccia & Associates will begin to address the recommendations of the Joint Land Use Study.

Both the 6,730 acre Fort Harrison, three miles west of Helena, and the Limestone Hills Training Center, located in Broadwater County and outside of Townsend, are included in the study.

Portions of the roughly 21,323 acre training center have private mining claims.

A National Governor's Association Center for Best Practices paper from 2002 noted of the conflicts created as residential development moves closer to military installations and warned this can lead to activity reductions or installation closures.

Improved local land use and zoning, the document stated, is the most effective way to address encroachment of military installations.

Lewis and Clark County saw nearly two-thirds of its growth between 2000 and 2010 just outside of Helena and East Helena, according to a draft version of the county’s growth plan for this area.

The Joint Land Use Study noted that Broadwater County was Montana’s second fastest growing county during that 10-year period and saw growth rise by nearly 28 percent compared to the state’s overall average of 9.67 percent.

And this growth in rural areas has created concern for military planners who see new subdivisions and the potential for more development creating a conflict with operations at Fort Harrison.

“When Fort Harrison was built, the city of Helena was quite a distance away. There were mostly ranches next to the fort and very little potential for conflicts,” Laura Erikson, Lewis and Clark County’s grants coordinator, told the county commission before it voted to award the contract to Peccia & Associates.

“As residential development increases, there begins to be a concern from residents about noise from helicopters, dust from convoys and other elements that are a part of normal military operations,” her statement continued.

“While development next to that facility has been limited, the flight path from Helena to the Limestone facility follows the river and the lake and that area has seen substantial residential development.

“The risk of losing an installation increases if they are forced to restrict times of training,” Erikson’s statement continued and added “Military training is not something that can be done from 8 to 5. A lot of the training for the Guard occurs on weekends and also night training is common.”

Having the Army National Guard at Fort Harrison created about $44 million in local spending in 2014, according to Erikson.

Of the 23 compatibility factors that were analyzed in the Joint Land Use Study, issues were identified with 18 of them, including land use, safety, noise, vibration, light and glare, land and air space, as well as interagency coordination and communication.

Because the Joint Land Use Study is seen as the result of a collaborative planning process, the document noted that strategies to address the issues that were identified offer “a realistic and coordinated approach to compatibility planning.”

Peccia & Associates’ proposal calls for working on eight areas of concern. Fifteen meetings are proposed through the project timeline. In addition to these meetings will be at least two monthly meetings with local government boards and commissions.

Also among these eight tasks to be undertaken by Peccia & Associates is the use of the county’s open space bond fund to protect lands from development to avoiding potential conflicts between new subdivision residents and military operations.

The city’s policy on outdoor lights as well as others in Montana communities will be reviewed, the proposal stated, to evaluate best practices.

Review and possible modification of lighting standards is seen as benefiting the city through reduced maintenance costs and less light pollution, as well as military operations that include the use of night vision training.

Peccia & Associates’ proposal calls for mapping areas where the heights of structures, such as buildings, transmission lines and wind turbines, should not exceed a mutually agreed upon height to avoid interfering with military radio frequencies and helicopter flight routes.

Areas that could be affected by helicopter flights and military training are slated for identification to help create a mix of compatible land uses. Potential property acquisition will also be identified as a part of this area of study by Peccia & Associates.

Al Knauber can be reached at


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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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