Navy stands by Site C

Published 10:43 am Saturday, February 24, 2007

By Staff
Makes change in land-acquisition plan
By NIKIE MAYO, News Editor
The Navy again named Site C — acreage in Washington and Beaufort counties — as its top spot for an outlying landing field in the court-ordered supplemental environmental study released Friday.
The draft supplemental environmental impact statement reaffirms the Navy’s intent to train pilots on the area encompassing about 30,000 acres along the border of those two counties. Most of the land is in Washington County, with about 5,000 acres on Beaufort County’s tax books.
Site C is 3.5 miles from the Pungo unit of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a hefty migratory waterfowl population and now at least a handful of endangered red wolves.
In 2004, the two counties joined environmentalists in a lawsuit alleging the Navy’s Final Environmental Impact Statement did not adequately consider the impacts of putting an OLF at Site C. Eastern District Judge Terrence Boyle found the Navy’s original study flawed. A federal appeals court upheld that assessment in 2005, leading to the supplemental report that was released this week.
The “core area” of the OLF at Site C would take up 2,000 acres, according to the latest study. That land would be used for an 8,000-foot runway and a five-story air traffic control tower, according to the report. The rest of the acreage would be used as a buffer.
The Navy needs 14,000 acres that would be bought outright in “fee-simple acquisitions,” Cmdr. Richard Catoire said in an interview Friday. The remainder of the land would be leased from property owners under a restrictive-use agreement.
That’s a change in course that has come with this latest study.
To date, the Navy has acquired 2,700 acres, spokesman Ted Brown said Friday. Thus far, $193 million has been authorized for the OLF project, but less than $10 million has been appropriated, according to Catoire.
Gov. Mike Easley sent a letter to North Carolina’s congressional delegation Friday asking Congress to withhold federal funding until the Navy looks at other options.
The OLF will be used to train pilots from Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va. and the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point. Site C is about halfway between the two military operations.
The Navy will host a series of public hearings to gather comments about the draft supplemental study. The first one is set for March 19 at Mattamuskeet School in Swan Quarter. The Beaufort County hearing is scheduled for April 3 at Beaufort County Community College and Washington County’s hearing will take place April 4 at the Vernon James Center in Plymouth.
Written comments on the study must be postmarked by April 24.