County antes up for possible OLF legal battle

Published 4:50 am Saturday, June 2, 2007

By Staff
News Editor
Beaufort County commissioners this week put $25,000 in their budget for outlying landing field litigation to “send … the Navy a signal” they intend to go to court if either site that would impact the county is chosen.
The Navy’s favored location — Site C in Washington and Beaufort counties — has come under fire from nearly every direction. But Beaufort County isn’t out of the woods as long as Site E in Craven County is still on the table, too.
Site E is the 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 and nearby schools, according to Beaufort County leaders. That site would impact the fastest-growing area of Beaufort County, according to Commissioner Stan Deatherage.
The Navy wants to put a landing field in eastern North Carolina and use it to train military pilots from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock. Residents, and now politicians, have heavily rallied against its preferred site near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
This isn’t the first time commissioners have earmarked money to battle the proposed OLF. In fiscal year 2002- 2003, they approved a lump sum of $25,000, which has been drawn down by $3,000 to $5,000 at the time in the years since. Most of that money has gone toward legal expenses incurred when the county and environmental groups sued the Navy to stop an OLF at Site C. Because of that lawsuit, the Navy can acquire land on that site only from “willing sellers” — and there haven’t been any of those lately.
Of the original $25,000 allocated, about $5,000 remains, according to Jim Chrisman, Beaufort County’s assistant manager and finance officer.
On the federal level, the fate of the OLF could rest in part on votes the Senate will soon take on the national defense bill. The U.S. House and a U.S. Senate Armed Services committee have both approved language that could make the Navy rethink its Site C plans.
For his part, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said Friday he’s “waiting on the Navy.”
Jones acknowledged that “more people seem to think alternative sites would fit the Navy’s needs.” But he hesitated to be more specific than to say that he opposed Site C.