Virginia plugs 10 would-be OLF sites
Navy will review them during 60-day period
By NikiE Mayo
Virginia officials offered 10 potential landing field sites when they met with Navy leaders on Capitol Hill Tuesday, and the commonwealth had a mission — to look out for Oceana.
The Navy is sticking by its preferred landing field — “Site C” in Washington and Beaufort counties — but will examine each of the options presented Tuesday, according to Ted Brown, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command. The 34,000-acre site in rural eastern North Carolina has garnered heavy political criticism of late, primarily because of its nearness to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Several environmental groups and the two Site C counties successfully sued the Navy in 2004, leading to a court-ordered supplemental review of the Navy’s favored spot.
The sites pitched Tuesday are in five different Virginia counties, in areas that are considered agricultural or rural. Three sites are in Southampton County and three are in Surry County. Two others are in Sussex and Greensville counties and another covers land in Sussex and Southampton counties. The final one is in King and Queen County. Each site is within 70 nautical miles of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. The ones in Surry County are closest to the military base and the King and Queen site is the farthest.
The Navy will take 60 days to analyze those sites. The Navy will also look at Fort Pickett, which was proposed by U.S. Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican. If any site is deemed “operationally viable,” the Navy will analyze it in-depth, using the standards set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act, Brown said. He said analyzing new sites could delay landing field operations by about 18 months.
The Navy has met with North Carolina leaders “on a number of occasions” in both Raleigh and Washington, D.C. and is in regular contact with them by telephone and e-mail, Brown said.
North Carolina leaders’ list of proposed sites remains under wraps, but commissioners in Washington and Beaufort counties have asked that Open Grounds Farm in Carteret County and the existing Oak Grove Outlying Landing Field in Jones County be considered.
The Navy has said it needs a dark environment without a lot of constraints to appropriately train pilots from Oceana and Havelock’s Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
A new field without encroachment would allow pilots to be better prepared in combat, something that doesn’t happen “every time you throw in an artificiality,” Rear Adm. David Anderson said during a press conference at Cherry Point in February.
The Navy owns 2,700 acres in Washington County and needs 300 more to complete its “core area” which includes the OLF landing strip, Anderson said then.
All of the Virginia sites offer low levels of population density and low levels of development and would have minimal environmental and ecological impacts, Crouch said Tuesday.
A new landing field could bring two squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets to Cherry Point, but officials there aren’t talking about it just yet.
“It’s so far above our heads at this point that we can’t even talk about it. … We don’t even know enough to talk about it,” MCAS Cherry Point spokesman Mike Barton said in a brief interview in May.