Navy hears from ones with the most to lose

Published 6:38 pm Thursday, April 5, 2007

By Staff
Speakers, others fill room during OLF hearing
News Editor
With his left foot moving nervously as he spoke, 11-year-old Kevin Beasley, whose family farm would be swallowed by an outlying landing field at the Navy’s preferred Site C, had one request Tuesday night.
Beasley was one of about 600 people who attended the Navy’s public hearing at Beaufort County Community College on Tuesday. He was part of the steady stream of people who talked about a proposed outlying landing field in the region.
The room set up for the public was filled, and the crowd spilled over into an adjacent hallway. Enough people spoke to make the hearing, scheduled for three hours, last almost four hours.
Beasley spoke about how his grandfather, a World War II veteran, is worried that he will lose the farm that has been in the family for five generations.
The Navy proposes to put an OLF on the border of Beaufort and Washington counties.
His sentiments were echoed throughout the night as county leaders, military veterans and farmers decried the negative effects of basing a practice field for pilots in northeastern North Carolina. The opposition was not focused solely on Site C, the Navy’s preferred location, but included Site E, an OLF option in northern Craven County. That site would affect Beaufort County’s southern boundary near Wilmar and would impact the Cypress Landing residential development, according to some speakers.
Deatherage was the first speaker of the evening to suggest basing the OLF at Open Grounds Farm in Carteret County.
Robert Belcher, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Education, said the schools could not withstand the effects of an OLF in Craven County.
That environment could be compromised in schools from Chocowinity to Bath, he said.
Chocowinity schools are about nine miles from the center of Site E, he said.
Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer, said Site E “totally ignores the economic revolution here.” He said Beaufort County is becoming a “waterfront Mecca.”
Then Thompson took off his economic developer’s hat and spoke as a former Air Force pilot and a veteran of the Vietnam War.
He characterized choosing the Washington-Beaufort counties site as “a blunder of immense proportions.” That site is fewer than five miles from the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to thousands of migratory waterfowl.
Opponents of that site say they worry about the potential for collisions between jets and tundra swans.
For hours, area speakers detailed the environmental impacts that could come with an OLF in eastern North Carolina.
They fretted over the economic impact it could have on the region’s tourism industry.
Washington Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said an OLF could “destroy the last vestige of hope” her city has of coming in line with those in other parts of the state.
Still others, many with family members or personal experience in the military, said they worry for the pilots at Naval Air Station Oceana or Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
But no one appeared to garner the riveted attention Kevin Beasley did when he asked for the chance “to follow in my Daddy’s footsteps.”
And no one else received a standing ovation.