Published 9:02 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2007
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Are eastern N.C. residents second class citizens?
By CAROLYN HESS, vice president, Albemarle Environmental Association, Elizabeth City
With so much emphasis being put on alternative siting for an OLF, a serious issue is being overlooked. The Navy does not need this OLF, which (it says) will only be used 10 to 15 hours a week, which will cost taxpayers a quarter billion tax dollars, and which will have negative impacts on any community saddled with the facility.
Current facilities are adequate. The Navy has plainly stated in all its documents that facilities at Oceana and Fentress airfield are adequate for training. When the BRAC Commission recommended possible closure for Oceana, the Navy strongly defended the effectiveness of the base. Facilities at Cherry Point are also adequate to train the two squadrons assigned to it.
Why do some communities get to choose? The Navy’s primary reason for an OLF is noise reduction in Virginia Beach, this because of complaints and lawsuits by Virginia Beach residents. If one looks at precedents, when residents living near the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station complained about jet noise, they were told they had no recourse. They were branded NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and told to live with the noise. Why then are Virginia Beach NIMBYs being catered to? Why are they being allowed to dump military noise on eastern North Carolina? Are eastern North Carolina residents of lesser importance than residents of Virginia Beach?
The state of Florida offered to house the jets at Cecil Field, a proposal that made eminent good sense because of the size of the base. But residents in the Jacksonville area objected. These residents had a choice. They voted in a formal referendum not to reopen the base because they did not want the noise.
Here in eastern North Carolina, the targeted communities have been told for five years that they have no choice but to swallow Virginia’s noise, that one of five communities must be ready to take an OLF that is unnecessary. Why are residents in Jacksonville, Fla., given a choice through referendum, but residents in eastern North Carolina are given no choice? Is it because residents in eastern North Carolina are considered second-class citizens who can be ignored because no one will champion them?
Who will defend the citizens of eastern N.C.? If the Navy gives up on Site C, which site will the Navy then point to? A, B, D, or E? If the Navy gives up on Site C, will public officials then fold their tents and walk away, leaving residents in Site A, B, D or E to struggle on, with their tax dollars paying for an unnecessary OLF?
Regardless of where this unnecessary OLF is located, every county in eastern North Carolina will have to endure noisy overflights. Already, noise from military jets is irritating and often downright unbearable in these quiet rural communities. To our knowledge, this contentious issue has never been addressed by any commission or committee.
Do Navy justifications make sense? When the draft EIS was released in 2002, Fentress was operating well below capacity. Since then obsolete planes have been retired. Navy concerns about occasional scheduling conflicts and the occasional need for surge operations (which have already been handled effectively in two wars) have not been substantiated in the environmental impact statements.
The Navy claims light pollution at Fentress in Chesapeake, Va., degrades training. If this is true, why is it considering two sites adjacent to prisons with glaring lights? And why will Fentress continue to be used for night training after an OLF is constructed?
As for the Navy’s safety record, we respect the need for fine training for our pilots. We are pleased that, according to Navy Safety Center reports, aircraft safety is at an all-time high. Training of Virginia’s Super Hornet squadrons is apparently not being degraded by current conditions at Oceana and Fentress.
Are We pawns? Can the Navy justify spending tax dollars and destroying natural resources anywhere in eastern North Carolina to train pilots for 10 to 15 hours a week when adequate facilities already exist? Are eastern North Carolina residents being played as pawns for the mere promise of 24 planes? New business and commerce, tourism and population growth fueled by prosperous retirees and industry will more than make up for any loss of income from 24 jets.
Has the Navy become the enemy? Anyone who attended the recent hearings for the supplementary EIS quickly became aware of citizen anger and mistrust toward the Navy. Words like “deceitful,” “liars,” “trespassers,” “irresponsibility,” “poor planning” rang through the hearings. Defiance and a refusal to be intimidated by the Navy were constant themes. How sad that this Navy, which was so admired — no, not just admired, worshiped — for its daring and deeds during World War II is now viewed as “arrogant” and “ignorant.”
We submit that this proposed OLF is a primary example of Department of Defense strategy to exempt military operations from fundamental public health and environmental laws. Such exemptions will destroy countless acres of critical habitat for endangered species. They will turn people who live near these facilities, and the states that host them, into second class citizens.
Our requests. It is time to take the destiny of eastern North Carolina back from those who do not understand nor care about the priceless heritage that exists here. The responsibility lies with our elected officials to stand firm against this OLF that is not needed and cannot be justified.
We thank those public officials and organizations who have publicly opposed an OLF in Washington and Beaufort Counties. We hope they will work toward eliminating the OLF project entirely, so that every community in the state can rest easy knowing that it will not become a second-class community, irreparably damaged by an OLF that is not needed.
For more in-depth information, see AEA’s website, http://members.inteliport.net/~aea/ or Google/Yahoo “AEA on the Web.”