State, Navy review six more OLF options

Published 1:26 am Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By Staff
Anderson ‘energized’ to find an alternative site for Navy
News Editor
RALEIGH — Rear Adm. David Anderson said Tuesday the Navy’s fine-tuned mission is to find a suitable alternative to the landing field site in Washington and Beaufort counties.
To that end, the Navy will consider six North Carolina alternatives to its preferred “Site C” near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Two sites are in Gates County and two are in Camden County in the northeast section of the state. Those sites are nearest to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va.
Two other sites on the state’s list are in the southeastern portion of the state. They are Angola Bay gameland on the border of Duplin and Pender counties and Hoffman Forest, which is state-owned land on the border of Jones and Onslow counties. The Navy already has some data on land in these areas because they were part of an outlying landing field study done in 2003, Anderson said.
Anderson and Bill Ross, secretary of the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, made a joint presentation to Gov. Mike Easley’s Outlying Landing Field Study Group in Raleigh. The panel, first formed in 2004, reconvened Tuesday for the first time since then, at the behest of the governor. The group will consider information related to the alternative sites and report to Easley and North Carolina’s congressional delegation within 60 days.
The Navy’s preferred site has encountered political and environmental opposition because of its location within four miles of the refuge. That sanctuary is home to thousands of migratory waterfowl, including snow geese and tundra swan. Still, state leaders said they didn’t want the opposition to mar North Carolina’s reputation as a military-friendly state.
The Navy also is studying 10 sites in rural Virginia, all within 70 nautical miles of Oceana. Those sites are being considered along with Fort Pickett, a favorite of U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter and Navy officials will review the alternatives during the next 60 days to decide if any of them is worthy of a more in-depth study. The five sites named in the Navy’s supplemental environmental study from February remain “on the table,” Navy spokesman Ted Brown said. They include one in eastern Hyde County and one near Wilmar on the border of Beaufort and Craven counties, along with Site C. Of the remaining two, one is in Perquimans County and the other is in Bertie County.
The Navy’s first choice was picked in part because it is halfway between Oceana and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock. Its location made it a suitable option for training military pilots from both bases. Its remoteness would allow pilots to practice takeoffs and landings of F/A-18 Super Hornets in a dark environment, thus simulating night landings of the jets, Navy officials have said.
But at least one thing has changed since the Navy took its first look at outlying landing field options, officials said.
MCAS Cherry Point will be able to support some of the training responsibilities that come with the two squadrons planned for that base, said Mark Anthony with the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command. How much can be done in Havelock is dependent at least partially on wind direction, he said.
Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill called that development “a wild concept because we’ve always envisioned traffic going both ways.”
The majority of the squadrons — eight in all — will still go to Oceana.
Washington County Manager David Peoples asked Navy leaders to re-examine the economic impact of an OLF on his county. Peoples said he believes the Navy’s figures “greatly understate” what could be lost in Washington County.
The governor’s study group will meet about three more times over the next two months, but its next meeting has not been set.