Hold the purse strings

Published 12:25 pm Saturday, March 3, 2007

By Staff
Kudos to Gov. Mike Easley for telling it like it is.
After the Navy released its latest environmental impact statement and again named Site C in Washington and Beaufort counties as the Navy’s preferred outlying landing field, Easley fired off a letter last week urging federal leaders to withhold funding for the ill-conceived project. It’s a show of leadership this area’s residents needed, and it’s one that should not be ignored.
Easley said he’d spent a lot of time with Navy brass and Pentagon officials discussion alternatives to Site C. Easley said Bill Ross, the state’s secretary of environment and natural resources, had “repeatedly talked” with Navy leaders and that the state’s OLF study group had “worked hard to identify viable alternatives.”
After laying out the case, Easley pointed out that “Congress controls the purse strings.” Indeed, it does, and federal leaders must hold them tight until the Navy changes course.
It’s clear that opposition to the site chosen is not enough to stop construction of an OLF. If that were the case, the Navy would have packed up its experts and testing and data long ago and looked elsewhere.
At the Navy’s press conference at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point this week, a reporter asked Rear Adm. David Anderson if he were bothered by the opposition the project has encountered. The reporter asked Anderson for a response to Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue’s assessment that the Navy shouldn’t put an OLF in a place it isn’t wanted.
Anderson’s answer to the reporter was perhaps a knee-jerk response. “Would you want to be somewhere you’re not wanted?,” Anderson asked. Anderson went on to say that the Navy would not “close the dialogue” it has going with state leaders. But he didn’t say opposition would make the Navy move on.
It’s just as clear that Site C’s nearness to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t seem to matter to decision makers involved in the OLF-selection process. The Pungo unit is less than four miles from the proposed landing field. Thousands of migratory waterfowl such as snow geese and tundra swan use the refuge for their winter digs.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose 1st Congressional District includes Washington County, said, “It’s still very difficult to believe that there isn’t a better, safer and more suitable place to build an outlying landing field than alongside a highly active wildlife refuge.”
Indeed it is difficult to believe. But Navy biologist Dan Cecchini said at the press conference the Navy is prepared to have an OLF next to the refuge. “The bottom line is that we believe we can safely coexist with this refuge and that this refuge can safely coexist with us for the foreseeable future,” Cecchini said.
Human logic should keep the Navy from spending one more dime toward Site C efforts. But, alas, humans are stubborn, too.
The opposition to Site C has never been about opposition to the Navy. North Carolina has always been — and will continue to be — a military state, and proudly so.
The urgency that is felt here is not about ridding the region of the Navy. It’s about asking the decision makers to think long and hard before they make a $231 million mistake.
They were asked years ago to think long and hard. They were offered a do-over when the courts ordered the Navy to take another look at the Site C plan. Still, the Navy stands by its first choice, its preferred choice, it’s one-and-only choice.
Asked about a second choice, Anderson couldn’t offer a Plan B.
In the absence of human logic, there’s only one thing left to do and the governor can do it. Money talks — and withholding it is the only way to make the Navy listen.