State’s land part of list of OLF options

Published 9:14 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2007

By Staff
Specific N.C. sites remain under wraps
News Editor
GREENVILLE — State-owned acreage is on the list of North Carolina landing field options the Navy is studying, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole said Tuesday.
Specific sites remain under wraps, and Dole is leaving it to state officials to announce them, but staffers said her office is standing at the ready to assist, if needed. They also indicated North Carolina communities on the site list won’t be blindsided.
Dole was in Greenville to talk to area sheriffs about dealing with illegal immigrants who commit crimes. Afterward, she briefly spoke with the Washington Daily News.
Officials from North Carolina and Virginia have been meeting with Navy leaders to offer 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. On Tuesday, Dole characterized that location as the “just one” site that has been eliminated as an OLF. Brian Nick, Dole’s chief of staff, added the Navy may not yet be ready to come to the same conclusion that Dole has drawn.
Site C has been criticized by environmental groups, Gov. Mike Easley, Dole and a host of political leaders as being too near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for thousands of wintering waterfowl. 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 in February 2007 a new statement about its impacts on the environment.
Virginia officials met with Navy leaders in early July to brief them on 10 potential OLF sites in the commonwealth, all within 70 nautical miles of Naval Air Station Oceana. The site alternatives were released to the media, and are all considered rural or agricultural.
North Carolina leaders will release their list of landing field options when the time is right, but won’t do it early and jeopardize their standing with the Navy, Easley said in July. The governor said then he likes Open Grounds Farm in Carteret County, but he wants to remain open to other options.
Tidewater News, a Virginia publication, reported recently that Virginia and North Carolina officials have been asked to remove communities unwilling to host an OLF from their lists before Sept. 15. Asked about that report, Nick said neither he nor Dole’s staff had any such information.
Nick said the Navy likely has “learned its lesson” in regard to putting a landing field in an unsupported place.
Navy spokesman Ted Brown is on leave this week and could not be reached as of Tuesday night.
In previous interviews, Brown said the Navy would be reviewing states’ alternative sites until some time in September. Thoroughly 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.