Dole urges Navy to seek another OLF site

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 23, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The battle lines for construction of an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) have once again shifted north.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) sent a letter on April 19 to the Secretary of the Navy opposing the Navy’s proposal to build an outlying landing field in Washington County and calling on the service to withdraw its recommendation for an OLF at that site.

“I appreciate the extensive discussions that we and our staffs have had over the last several weeks regarding the Navy’s proposal for an outlying landing field in North Carolina,” Dole wrote to Navy Secretary Donald Winter.  “As I have conveyed to you, the Navy’s proposal to build an OLF in Washington County is simply not feasible.

“In the best interests of both North Carolinians and the service, the Navy must withdraw its recommendation for an OLF in Washington County and focus on operationally viable sites in North Carolina where environmental and other problems are very limited and where residents are more receptive to such a facility and its potential for long-term economic development.  I will oppose funding for an OLF in Washington County, as well as other potential sites that fail to meet these standards.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the Navy n and facilitating a dialogue with state and local officials and my colleagues in the North Carolina congressional delegation n to find a solution as quickly and efficiently as possible that will both benefit residents of North Carolina and provide pilots with the training that they require and deserve,” the Senator added.

In another move, Senator John Warner (R-Va.) implored Secretary Winter to explore the possibility of locating the OLF at Fort Pickett in Virginia. Fort Pickett sits on 42,000 acres near Blackstone, Va. along U.S. 460 west of Petersburg.

According to an April 21 article in The Virginian Pilot, Fort Pickett is frequently used as a training site by Army, Marine Corps and special forces troops. Blackstone Army Airfield at Fort Pickett has two runways, one 4,000 feet long and another more than 4,600 feet long. A Navy spokesman suggested last week that the presence of unexploded ordnance near the airfield and extensive use of Fort Pickett for special forces training would make the base unsuitable for the Navy’s needs.

Meanwhile, Plymouth Mayor Brian T. Roth welcomes Senator Dole’s support. Roth said he and the Senator had a lengthy telephone conversation regarding the issue.

“We discussed, at length and in great detail, the importance of the Navy fully explaining to the public, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress what would be required to make various additional sites viable that were expressly left out of the original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in July, 2003, and never developed as potential OLF sites.” Mayor Roth said in a press release.

He continued, “I believe we were in strong concurrence that a preliminary focus, going forward, must be to get the Navy to quantify exactly what infrastructure and other workarounds, such as airspace scheduling, would be necessary to make existing military installations and several other significantly variable locations work as an OLF site.

That information should have been included in the original 2003 EIS.”

Roth added that the discussion included having the Navy to proceed at any of the other current alternative sites, including Site A in Perquimans County and Site E in Craven County.

However, he explained to Senator Dole that these sites pose their own sets of valid concerns and issues and are considered unacceptable by citizens, local governments and most state officials.

There was no mention of a site in Bertie County that was on the Navy’s original listing of possible OLF locations.

“I view Senator Dole’s letter to be a major step in the right direction,” Roth said. “Understanding Senator Dole serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, I do not believe her letter will easily be ignored by the Navy.

I believe we are in solid agreement, at this point; the Navy must open their EIS to include additional sites that were previously excluded from legitimate consideration.

Senator Dole and I pledged to continue to work cooperatively and she reemphasized her offer to keep her staff accessible to us.”

While Mayor Roth was indeed pleased with Senator Dole’s strong support, he warned against being over exuberant.

“We are obviously very pleased with all of the letters which have recently been sent to Secretary Winter by Governor Easley, heads of various state agencies, numerous U.S. Congressmen and our two U.S. Senators,” Roth stated. “Please keep in mind, the Navy has not withdrawn their Record of Decision for Site C (Washington County) nor have they agreed to open their core EIS to include additional sites.”