Oceana closing could change OLF

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2005

WASHINTON, D.C. – A vote by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) could have an impact on eastern North Carolina.

Tuesday saw the Commission vote 7-1 to close Oceana Naval Air Station and examine ways to best deal with the encroachment issues created by the proximity to development in Virginia Beach, Va. Commissioners said they want to create a long-term solution and mentioned the possibility of shifting jets to other bases.

&uot;The possibility of closing Oceana creates a number of questions, including whether there will be a need to build an outlying landing field in Washington and Beaufort counties,&uot; Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) said.

In June of this year, the United States Navy announced they would reevaluate all possible sites in Northeastern North Carolina to construct an Outlying Landing Field (OLF). An OLF is a facility where pilots of F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets pilots train to simulate takeoffs and landings on an aircraft carrier.

The Navy had originally planned to build an OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties, but a court order has stopped that process for the moment.

The judge in the case ruled the Navy did a poor job of analyzing the potential harm to the nearby Poscosin Lake National Wildlife Refuge and minimized the risk of bird-aircraft collisions.

Thanks to Tuesday’s decision, Congressman Butterfield and others aren’t sure if the possible closing of Oceana would affect the building of an OLF.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said Thursday he knew the closing of Oceana wasn’t certain, but felt it would end the need for an OLF if it occurred.

&uot;In the event Oceana is a victim of the BRAC Commission, it looks less and less likely the Navy will need an OLF in Washington County or anywhere in eastern North Carolina,&uot; Lamb said.

The Bertie County Commissioners have opposed a site within their county as well as those in surrounding areas.

&uot;Our position is the OLF should go where the assets are,&uot; Lamb said. &uot;If you have the planes and the employees, you should have to be the ones putting up with the noise and not send it to eastern North Carolina.&uot;

Congressman Butterfield is continuing to work the situation in Washington. He said he has requested a meeting with Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment B.J. Penn to talk about the Navy’s long-term plans and what implications those plans could have on the proposed OLF. He expects a date for the meeting to be set soon.

Still, the affect on the OLF will not be determined until Oceana is saved from the report or the decision to close it is finalized.

Under the rules established by Congress, the BRAC commission will issue a list of recommended closures and realignments by September 8.

The law requires Congress and President George W. Bush to accept or reject the report in its entirety, which was done with the intention of ensuring that larger states or those with more influential representatives cannot dominate the process.

Congressman Butterfield has opposed the OLF site in Washington County, but said he does not oppose the project itself.