Alternate OLF site raising concerns

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2007

By Staff
Officials denounce Site C; but fret over Site E too
News Editor
For Beaufort County commissioners, the Navy battle isn’t just about Site C anymore. While an outlying landing field there is of paramount concern at the moment, discussion Monday turned to the fallout that could be felt here if Site E in Craven County is picked.
Leaders were considering a resolution opposing the Navy’s preferred OLF spot on the border of Washington and Beaufort counties when Commissioner Hood Richardson said, “I think we need to get some words in there about Site E.”
That site, near Vanceboro, has been endorsed by some leaders in Craven and Carteret counties. Dale Hall, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that Site E would have the least impact on area refuges.
But putting the OLF there “just nails Beaufort County again,” Richardson said.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage, who deals in real estate, said at one time agents had to tell prospective buyers in Beaufort County that an OLF in Craven County could impact their property.
With that in mind, commissioners amended their resolution to name specific “alternative locations” for the OLF, “including, but not limited to, Open Grounds Farm in Carteret County and the existing Oak Grove OLF,” which is in Jones County.
But the focus remains on Site C, encompassing about 30,000 acres — 5,000 of which are in Beaufort County. That site would be used to train pilots from military bases in Virginia Beach, Va., and Havelock. In the latest study released in February, the Navy again names that site as its favored one.
The study “does not adequately address” the impacts on more than 100,000 waterfowl in the region, which winter at nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges, reads the resolution opposing Site C. “It diminishes the extreme peril to human life (both pilots and civilians) and military aircraft,” the document says.
With the majority of the acreage of Site C belonging to Washington County, Beaufort County leaders recognized residents here would take a different kind of economic hit.
Placing an OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties could affect 22,000 agricultural acres, where restrictive easements might prevent farmers from planting corn, soybeans and wheat and allow only less profitable crops, according to the resolution. That could result in annual losses between $3.8 million and $6.9 million, the document says.
The resolution, whose companion piece was passed in Washington County last week, will be presented at the Navy’s public hearing at Beaufort County Community College next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The resolution calls for a third party to prepare an independent environmental study “to ensure a correct decision is made” regarding OLF placement. The Navy is expected to make that decision in the fall.