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Navy shifts gears in OLF search

By Staff
Environmental rhetoric tones down around new sites
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
RALEIGH — The Navy isn’t looking to do business as usual as it seeks an alternate to its preferred sight for a proposed outlying landing field in North Carolina.
Instead, Rear Adm. David Anderson is looking to make a “paradigm shift” to “the way we want to do business in the 21st century,” he said at a meeting of Gov. Mike Easley’s OLF Study Group in Raleigh on Thursday.
At the study group’s Sept. 18 meeting, its first since 2004, Anderson and state officials released a list of six alternative sites to the Navy-preferred Site C in Washington and Beaufort counties. Anderson said at both meetings his mission was to present Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter with a viable alternative to Site C, which came under heavy fire from state and federal environmental groups because of its proximity to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
The shift Anderson wants to make mirrored itself Thursday in environmental agencies’ preliminary responses to the six newly proposed sites. Two sites, Sandbanks and Old Railroad Grade site, are in Gates County and two are in Camden County in the northeast portion of the state. Two other sites are in southeastern North Carolina. They are Angola Bay in Duplin and Pender counties and Hofman Forest, land owned primarily by North Carolina State University in Jones and Onslow counties.
Site D is in eastern Hyde County, near Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife refuge. Both refuges are wintering spots for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl, which Audubon and other agencies have said are vulnerable to jet traffic and pose hazards to Navy pilots practicing carrier landings at the proposed field.
Peter Benjamin, head of the Raleigh office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, offered his agency’s “preliminary impressions” on the sites and said his staff would be able to offer specific information regarding possible “showstoppers” by the end of the month.
Anderson also said the Navy’s new focus was to converse directly with communities near the newly proposed sites about possible environmental and economic impacts, before a full-blown impact study is conducted.
Despite the Navy’s apparent shift and a meeting with Navy brass, Perquimans County Manager Bobby Darden, said “mainly we’ve been through this before.” Site A, one of the original five sites is in Perquimans County. The four new northeastern North Carolina sites are clustered above and around the county.