Ross courts Navy to consider other OLF sites in N.C.
Open Grounds Farm an ‘example for sure’
By NIKIE MAYO
North Carolina leaders will “do what it takes to develop information about viability” of alternative landing field sites during the next 60 days, the state’s point man in talks with the Navy said Wednesday.
Ross was tapped by Gov. Mike Easley to offer alternatives to Site C, the land in Washington and Beaufort counties that the Navy wants to use as a training ground for military pilots. That 34,000-acre spot has garnered criticism from politicians and environmentalists because it is within four miles of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Several environmental groups and the two Site C counties successfully sued the Navy in 2003, leading to a court-ordered supplemental review of the Navy’s favored spot.
He said project completion times and construction costs are among the criteria the state has considered in choosing new, potential landing field sites. Ross will work with Rear Adm. David Anderson to identify new sites, according to correspondence from the governor.
Ross said a “location that has a limited number of owners” could be on the state’s landing field wish list. Easley said in a July 11 interview with the Daily News that he has “always liked Open Grounds Farm.” That land in Carteret County has few owners and is “an example for sure” of the kind of site the state might want, Ross said.
Neither Ross nor Easley’s staff would reveal how many sites the state has put forward. They also wouldn’t talk about location specifics.
That may come some time after September, according to a letter Easley sent to Navy Secretary Donald Winter on Wednesday.
The Navy is also reviewing 10 sites in rural Virginia, all of which are within 70 nautical miles of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. It will also consider Virginia’s Fort Pickett, as suggested by U.S. Sen. John Warner, a Republican from the commonwealth.
At least one member of North Carolina’s delegation doesn’t intend to offer site suggestions. Rep. G.K. Butterfield will let the state and Navy negotiate, said Butterfield’s spokesman Ken Willis.
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,” Anderson said during a press conference at Cherry Point in February.