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Cities help improve flight safety for Randolph AFB

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Recent clearings of vacant homes in Universal City, Schertz and Converse will make communities safer around Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph’s flight path, officials said.

The destruction of housing near the air base is the initial use of a blanket intergovernmental support agreement, or ISA, between the Alamo Area Council of Governments and JBSA.

Universal City solicited bids and managed the project, which included the clearing and cleanup of a residential concrete foundation, a rural tract with a mobile home, sheds and a water well, and three undeveloped parcels.

“Demolition of these derelict homes is going to improve flying safety for the Air Force, promote public safety and remove the blight for the city and the residents of Universal City,” AACOG Executive Director Diane Rath said at a Nov. 10 socially distanced event in Universal City.

Military and civilian leaders attended the razing of seven of the nine houses, on a stretch of East Lindbergh Boulevard. The properties sat within the “clear zones” — or areas requiring to be free of structures — of aircraft approaches to runways at Randolph.

The federal government has long sought to reduce the risk of military aviation accidents between air bases and adjacent civilian housing and businesses.

Department of Defense studies in the 1970s and ’80s found most mishaps occur on or near landing strips.

Home of the 12th Flying Training Wing, JBSA-Randolph is the only Air Force base with dual simultaneous instrument approaches on parallel runways.

Randolph is also one of the Air Force’s busiest facilities, averaging more than 200,000 flight operations annually.

AACOG facilitates the support accord between JBSA and San Antonio.

However, now smaller towns surrounding military facilities are encouraged to use the ISA to address incompatible land uses, such as zones needing to be cleared of buildings.

Officials said the agreement, and a Randolph Joint Land Use Study finished a few years ago, will lead to similar safety projects. The state funded the purchases of the 14 properties.

“Under the blanket ISA, AACOG and its member governments can literally provide any service that we usually provide for the military, and the military is such an important part of this community,” Rath said.

“Local governments have incredible in-house capabilities and buying power. The blanket ISA allows us to pass along the advantages of those capabilities and buying power to promote mission resilience, save taxpayer money and create efficiencies for JBSA.”

Universal City Mayor John Williams said it only makes sense for his town and neighboring municipalities to do what they can to help preserve the flying training mission at Randolph.

“We sort of grew up together,” Williams said of the evolution of both the base and the city. “We plan as a team and we work together as a team.”

Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller, 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA commander, thanked AACOG and leaders of neighboring cities for their assistance.

“The demolition of these aged houses will help ensure the safety of our neighbors in Universal City and Schertz, while also allowing JBSA mission partners to continue focusing on their core mission of training tomorrow’s military aviators,” she added.

Newly reelected U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said adequate funding for defense is always important.

He added it’s equally crucial to properly fund the Defense Community Infrastructure Program, which could help bolster initiatives such as clear zones and reconciling incompatible land use.

“We’ve got to look at the communities that serve the military installations. We’ve got to make sure we put the money in there, and that we grow that money,” Cuellar added.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who chaired the Randolph Joint Land Use Committee, said expanding clear zones around Randolph by cities shows local governments are committed to preserving the missions at one of the area’s biggest public employers.

“We’re also saving the military in terms of procurement costs,” Calvert said. “This is just a real win for us. We’re going to continue to have strong, bold action.”

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