OLF site search shifts to Virginia

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Over the past five years, the U.S. Navy has searched for a prime spot in eastern North Carolina to construct an Outlying Landing Field (OLF).

The Navy’s search may now take a turn north of the border in Virginia.

On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine identified 10 spots in his state the Navy could consider for its fleet of new F/A 18 Super Hornet strike fighter jets to perform “touch-and-go” training.

Three of the sites, two in Southampton County (Va.) and one in Greensville County (Va.), are just north of the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Site proposal 4A (Southampton) comes close to touching the northern border of Hertford County. Meanwhile, Southampton site 4B is just north of Northampton County and site 5A in Greensville County is also situated just north of Northampton.

Of the seven remaining possible Virginia OLF sites, one other is in Southampton County, three are located in Surry County, two in Sussex County and one in King & Queen County. All 10 are within 70 miles of Oceana Naval Air Station (NAS) where the Super Hornet fighter jets are now based.

Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Kaine comes on the heels of years of battle by eastern North Carolina counties to keep the OLF out of their respective areas. One of those possible sites was in the Midway-Merry Hill area of Bertie County.

However, the Navy zeroed in on Washington County, but those plans were derailed this spring when the U.S. Congress and Senate approved a measure that repealed the Navy’s effort in that county.

North Carolina politicians, most notably Senator Elizabeth Dole, Governor Mike Easley and Congressmen G. K. Butterfield, led the effort to steer the Navy clear of Washington County. There, the proposed site lies just west of an area that was established specifically as a waterfowl sanctuary where thousands of birds winter annually. At peak, there are about 25,000 tundra swans and more than 65,000 snow geese which regularly fly out to feed in the farm fields just west of the site.

In May, U.S. Navy Secretary Donald Winter said he would reconsider alternative sites for an outlying landing field. That consideration would place a crimp in the Navy’s plans to construct the OLF halfway between Oceana NAS in Virginia Beach and Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock where another fleet of Super Hornet jets are stationed.

Other possible sites are in Perquimans, Hyde and Craven counties.