No big surprise

Published 3:05 pm Friday, March 16, 2007

By Staff
The notion that North Carolina’s U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr aren’t taking a position on the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field here might be news somewhere in the world, but it’s no revelation to the people who live in and around Site C.
Well, yeah. Except that “the process” isn’t working. If it were, the Navy’s chosen OLF site on the border of Washington and Beaufort counties would have been knocked out long ago. Years ago, in fact — which is how long Dole has been sitting on the fence.
And getting answers to questions? As a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of the Defense Department, Dole is in a prime spot to be asking those questions. And the people who put her in office are depending on her to do so.
If she can’t get answers, then who can?
For years, people here have waited, hoped, practically begged for Dole to step up to the plate and be their voice in this matter. Dole’s no lightweight in the world of politics, and she knows it. So does everybody else.
Sure, she sent some letters here and there. But if she really went to bat in opposing Site C, it would make waves. It would matter.
Burr, meanwhile, has said he doesn’t think “it’s a member of Congress’ role to tell the Navy where or where not to place something,” according to an AP report. So, essentially, Burr might be willing to represent his constituents on some matters, but he’s not willing to take on the Navy. He’ll be the voice of the people — as long as the seat’s not too hot.
Perhaps he’d feel different if Dole, North Carolina’s senior senator, would show some strength on this issue.
The spot where the Navy intends to put the OLF is near the Pungo unit of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. That refuge is intended to be a sanctuary for thousands of migratory waterfowl.
Area residents — along with environmentalists from all over — see the serious threat that is posed by putting military pilots and migratory birds on the same path. On some level, the Navy likely sees that, too. Yet, its leaders continue to charge forward toward the cliff’s edge.
This is the part where North Carolina’s senators should be doing all they can to block the Navy’s path. Instead, Dole and Burr have taken the easy way out — again and again. The only thing that is less of a surprise than the senators’ positions is that the Navy stuck with Site C as its preferred OLF site when it released its latest environmental study on the matter.
It is possible for the senators to support the military and still oppose the OLF-site selection. In fact, that’s the way folks around Washington and Beaufort counties feel — and it’s not an anti-military sentiment.
Dole and Burr were elected to represent the entire state of North Carolina in Washington, D.C. That includes this rural region. Maybe Dole and Burr think there aren’t enough votes here to matter to them — and maybe they’re right.
But there are a lot of people in this state who see the danger in Site C. Continuing to sidestep their concerns may be a bigger gamble than Dole and Burr bargained for.