Published 1:51 pm Saturday, March 10, 2007

By Staff
It’s more about protecting humans’ rights to live and work on land that’s been a part of their lives for years than it is about protecting birds and other animals.
That’s the message Rick Martinez, identified by the News &Observer’s Web site as a correspondent for the Raleigh-based newspaper, needs to receive and understand when it comes to people in Washington and Beaufort counties fighting the Navy’s plan to construct an outlying landing field near the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge. Martinez, if his Feb. 28 piece in the News &Observers is to be believed (sadly, he expects us to believe it), believes the Navy should get its way.
To be sure, OLF opponents are worried that Navy planes flying touch-and-go practices will suffer bird strikes that could kill Navy pilots, damage Navy — and taxpayers’ — planes and kill birds. But they are more worried about the Navy coming in and taking away their land and way of life. They want to keep and protect their land. They sincerely believe there’s a better place for the outlying landing field, a place that will disturb less people, land and animals.
For Martinez to accuse area residents who oppose the Navy’s plan of being insensitive to the Navy’s needs and not supporting American military personnel because they dare speak their minds, well, that’s just nothing more than an insult to these folks.
Meaningless phrase in those two counties? It’s apparent that Martinez doesn’t know the folks in Beaufort and Washington counties too well, or at all.
Perhaps there’s been a bird strike even before a final decision on the outlying landing field has been reached — and that explains why Martinez isn’t thinking clearly.
To do away with the threat of bird strikes, Martinez wrote, three experts came up with what he calls a “common sense solution.” The experts, according to Martinez, recommend doing away with the birds’ food. The birds come to the refuge to fill up on crops, especially wheat, the Martinez musings note. The experts that Martinez places so much faith in call for the Navy to plant grass instead of wheat, which would result in the birds’ seeking tastier morsels elsewhere.
What would the Navy be doing planting grass on land it doesn’t own? Yes, the Navy has bought about 2,700 acres out of about 33,000 acres on which the outlying land field would be located. But the majority of that 33,000 acres is owned by others, including opponents of the Navy’s preferred Site C for the outlying landing field. The Navy shouldn’t be planting anything on land it doesn’t own. That would be somewhat presumptuous.
Put the birds aside. If the majority of landowners in the proposed OLF site and the majority of local elected officials who represent those people don’t want the Navy’s facility in their backyards, they have the right to voice their opinions. They don’t begrudge Martinez from voicing his views on the issue.
If he wants to believe that an OLF at Site C won’t harm the environment surrounding that site, that’s his right.
But when he accuses area residents who oppose the OLF of not supporting American military personnel, that’s where he’s wrong. When he makes the statement that “We Support the Troops” is meaningless in much of Beaufort and Washington counties, he’s more than wrong. He’s insulting people who have long supported and will continue to support “the troops.”
If Martinez continues to question the patriotism of some OLF opponents, he may want to familiarize himself with words from a Merle Haggard song. Martinez just may find himself “on the fightin’ side” of folks who live and work in and around the proposed OLF site.
Question their reasons for opposing the Navy’s plan. They don’t deserve to have their patriotism questioned.