Residential construction moratorium may be part of military jets coming to Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,038 views 

Map showing darker areas where residential construction moratorium will be in place.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (June 14) will take a look at a temporary moratorium on the issuance of new residential housing permits to avoid potential noise issues when fighter jets return to the Fort Smith Regional Airport.

According to a letter to City Administrator Carl Geffken from City Attorney Jerry Canfield, because Fort Smith was chosen as a potential site for a pilot training center to be housed at Ebbing Air National Guard Base, sound impacts, especially on residential uses, require study and, potentially, the additional sound regulations in the area.

“It is anticipated that the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) associated with the increased military use of the airport will be available later in 2022. It is anticipated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require and participate in a new noise study for the Airport in the calendar year 2023,” Canfield states in his letter.

Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, the home of the 188th Wing, was selected in 2021 by acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the federal agency managing the FMS, notes that the program provides “responsible arms sales to further national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, supporting coalition building, and enhancing interoperability between U.S. forces and militaries of friends and allies.”

The initial schedule has Ebbing receiving the Singapore F-16s in 2023 and the F-35s in 2024.

Due to the timing of those studies and the time needed to get citizen impact regarding future sound regulations, Canfield proposes a temporary moratorium, extending through 2023 or until the adoption of additional sound regulations, be imposed on the issuance of building permits for new housing residential construction in the airport area. The proposed ordinance states the moratorium will end by Dec. 31, 2023.

Fort Smith Developer Rod Coleman said he was super concerned about the moratorium even though he, personally, will not be affected by a residential moratorium in that area. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when listening to Tuesday night’s discussions, he said.

“One, don’t panic. We don’t know enough yet to panic. Two, we knew we could expect something like this in the area because of the aircraft that will be coming,” Coleman said.

He said he would not be surprised to see more regulations – such as the need to use triple-glazed windows, more insulation and different roofing – put into place for building a home in the airport area in order to compensate for the increased noise level the jets will bring.

“The moratorium won’t last. They will allow (residential) building in the area. I would just imagine that regulations will change. That will mean the cost to build in that area will go up, but that won’t affect the contractor really. That cost will be paid by the buyer who is building the home,” he said.