Easley: N.C. to be mum on OLF options

Published 12:30 pm Thursday, July 12, 2007

By Staff
Says Navy and state ‘trading information’
News Editor
North Carolina leaders will release their list of outlying landing field options when the time is right, but they won’t do it early and jeopardize their standing with the Navy, Gov. Mike Easley said Wednesday.
In town to announce the opening of a boat-lift company in Washington, Easley spoke briefly with the Daily News afterward.
He said North Carolina officials “continue to meet” with Navy brass about alternatives to Site C in Washington and Beaufort counties, the Navy’s preferred place to train pilots from military bases in Virginia Beach, Va., and Havelock. But as long as the state and the service are involved in discussions, Easley plans to play his cards close to the vest.
One site Easley would put “out there” is the Carteret County site he has previously championed.
Virginia officials met with Navy leaders Tuesday on Capitol Hill to brief them on 10 potential OLF sites in the commonwealth. Those sites, spanning five counties within 70 miles of Naval Air Station Oceana, were later released to the media. They’re all considered agricultural or rural and have low population densities, said Robert Crouch Jr., an assistant to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. Crouch works in commonwealth preparedness.
The Navy maintains its favor for Site C, but it will review those Virginia sites during the next two months, Navy spokesman Ted Brown said Tuesday. Reviewing new sites could delay the opening of a landing field by about 18 months, he said. The landing field was scheduled to open in 2011 and cost about $230 million.
Leaders in Washington and Beaufort counties are hopeful the two sites they’ve “pushed up from the grassroots level” will make the North Carolina list, Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill said Wednesday. Those sites are Open Grounds Farm and the existing Oak Grove OLF in Jones County.
Site C has been criticized by environmental groups and Easley as being too near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for thousands of wintering birds, including tundra swan and snow geese. Its location within four miles of the refuge became the basis of a lawsuit that environmental groups and Site C counties won in 2004. That case forced the Navy to restudy Site C and release a new statement about its effects earlier this year.