NASA Wallops is competing with two other sites in Florida to become the East Coast home base for a naval drone surveillance program that would require 400 new personnel. As part of the process the Navy is asking for public comment on its draft assessment of potential effects the facility might have on the environment.
Virginia's Eastern Shore is a major thoroughfare for migrating birds and raptors which stop to rest and refuel. With them come tourists. But the feathers along the roads in Accomack County, home to NASA Wallops, are evidence of the largest employers, chicken processing plants. The county is slowly bringing in a tech economy, like an 80 megawatt solar farm, Virginia's largest so far. Ted Brown is a spokesman with U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
“This would bring an economic boost to the community surrounding the home base. First of all, it would create jobs for the required construction and renovation of facilities to support the Triton. Secondly, and more long term, the addition of about 400 personnel plus an estimated 500 family members would increase demands for products and services and supplies throughout the local economy.”
The chosen site will provide a home base for four Triton unmanned aircraft and support a maintenance hub for up to four more. The drone is the size of a small jet with wings more than twice the normal length. Upon takeoff it sounds like one too. It's designed to fly intelligence gathering missions up to 24 hours at altitudes over 10 miles high and can monitor two million square miles of ocean and shorelines at a time.
“It's a multiple sensor, unarmed, unmanned aircraft. It's about 48 feet long; the wingspan is about 131 feet. And most of the operations would occur over international waters 12 miles or more off shore.”
The drones would takeoff from Wallops and go directly out to sea, leaving mostly watermen and anglers to take notice. As with the solar farm, the Navy is required to study the impact a drone fleet facility would have on people as well as wildlife. The result of that study is now open to public comment until Oct. 1.
“We didn't identify and significant environmental effects at any of these sites.”
Construction is scheduled to begin for the East Coast site in 2017.
Copies of the draft assessment are available at:
- Wallops Flight Facility Visitor’s Center, Building J20, VA-175, Wallops Island, VA 23337
- Eastern Shore Public Library, 23610 Front Street, Accomac, VA 23301
- Chincoteague Island Library, 4077 Main Street, Chincoteague Island, VA 23336
- Pocomoke Public Library, 301 Market Street, Pocomoke City, MD 21851