Navy scuttles area OLF sites

Published 1:42 am Wednesday, January 23, 2008

By Staff
Considering five sites, two in North Carolina and three in Virginia
Staff Writer
The Navy has abandoned its plans to build an outlying landing field in Washington and Beaufort counties.
Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter handed down a decision Tuesday morning announcing the Navy would formally consider five of 22 proposed OLF sites. The Navy will consider two sites in northeastern North Carolina, Sandbanks in Gates County and Hales Lake in Camden County. The three remaining sites are in Virginia.
The Navy also decided to cancel its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that was released in February 2007. In that document, the Navy chose Site C in Washington and Beaufort counties as its preferred site for the field where jet pilots would practice aircraft carrier landings. Four other potential OLF sites in Bertie, Craven, Hyde and Perquimans counties also have been removed from consideration.
Jennifer Alligood, chairwoman of North Carolinians Opposing the Outlying Landing Field, has helped lead the fight against an OLF at Site C since the Navy first announced its preference for that site in 2002.
After five years of uncertainty, Alligood said, the announcement that the Navy will no longer consider Site C comes with “elation and disbelief.”
Washington County Manager David Peoples said the OLF issue stagnated that county’s development since Site C was pegged as the Navy’s preferred location for the outlying landing field. Beginning Tuesday, he said, the county and its residents will be able to “move forward with their lives.”
An OLF not being built in Washington County would also benefit the county’s economic-development efforts, Peoples said.
Beaufort County dodged an OLF on two fronts: Site C and Site E, which is in Craven County, according to County Manager Paul Spruill.
Site C came under heavy fire from state and federal environmental groups because of its proximity to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge — winter home to hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl that environmentalists said are vulnerable to and pose risks for Navy jets. Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, said the Navy’s decision to eliminate Site C is a “victory” for the birds and people who live there.
The Navy has purchased more than 2,000 acres in Washington and Beaufort counties. Currently, that acreage is leased to private agricultural operations, according to Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore, a media spokeswoman for the Navy.
Despite OLF decision, military’s influence remains
Cherry Point in running for more Super Hornets
Managing Editor
Eastern North Carolina will see a massive influx of military personnel no matter where the Navy decides to locate an auxiliary landing field, officials said Tuesday in the wake of the Navy’s decision not to build an outlying landing field at several proposed sites in the region.
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is in line to receive two F/A-18 Super Hornet squadrons as part of an effort to relieve congestion at the Navy’s Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.
That could happen even though the Navy has ruled out locating an outlying landing field half way between the two bases. Instead, the Navy will look at potential OLF sites in Gates County, Camden County and southern Virginia.
The F/A-18 E Super Hornet model, a one-seater fighter jet, and the F model, a two-seater, are replacing aging F-14 Tomcat fighter jets.
Each of the two North Carolina locations that remain under consideration as an OLF site is about 110 miles from Cherry Point. The Cabin Point site in Virginia is about 155 miles from the base next to Havelock.
The addition of two squadrons at Cherry Point is expected to pump about $30 million into the area’s economy. Cherry Point has four runways that range in length from 7,553 feet to 8,984 feet. During FCLP, pilots practice what it’s like to land on an aircraft carrier at sea.
No matter what happens to the Super Hornets, Camp Lejeune and the air bases at Cherry Point and New River are set to get 11,477 new Marines as part of a military buildup.
The new troops will start arriving as early as this summer, according to Mike Alford, chairman of a military growth task force that was set up to make sure eastern North Carolina is prepared to accommodate that growth.
Some of the new Marines will be stationed at Cherry Point. While Beaufort County remains outside of the seven-county core area being considered by the task force, the Washington area could feel some effects of that growth.
Alford wasn’t able to comment on the Navy’s OLF decision.