Easley urges Navy to seek OLF alternatives

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 14, 2007

RALEIGH – The efforts of a local grassroots group appears to be making an impact.

Yesterday (Wednesday), North Carolina Governor Mike Easley issued a press release urging

the Navy to take into account the overwhelming local opposition to an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) and develop alternative proposals following receipt of a report from Judge Sidney S. Eagles on the activities of the OLF Study Group.

Easley sent a letter to North Carolina’s congressional delegation and Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter, along with copies of the report from Eagles’ who chaired the study group.

Winter is expected shortly to announce sites, possibly in Virginia and North Carolina, that the Navy wants to explore further for the training facility.

Two of those six possible sites are in Gates County (the Sand Banks off US 13 near the Chowan River and the Old Railroad Grade site near the Sandy Cross community). Two others are in nearby Camden County.

While the news of the governor’s letter was well-received by the Citizens Against OLF, a group based in Gates County, they remain cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t feel Northeastern North Carolina is off the hook in any way and neither are taxpayers across the country because this still doesn’t address our primary concern that an OLF is not required, as stated in the Navy’s own documentation,” said Laura Dickerson of the Citizens Against OLF. “How many more resources will be wasted on noise mitigation while our troops abroad don’t have the proper equipment to adequately protect them?”

Dickerson said the group will continue their efforts.

“We will fight this battle until all people in Northeastern North Carolina can enjoy a future full of quiet and peaceful nights.

Gov. Easley praised groups such as Citizens Against OLF for voicing their concerns.

“The most important information gathered came from the citizens and public officials from affected counties who testified at the study group’s public meeting in Elizabeth City,” said the governor. “They were overwhelmingly opposed to an OLF in their communities.

They see an OLF as almost all burden and no benefit.

That is why I am urging our congressional delegation to ask the Navy to take these views into account and develop alternative proposals.”

Two months ago, Easley activated the OLF Study Group, headed by former state Court of Appeals Judge Eagles, to examine the strategic, economic and environmental aspects of finding sites that will meet the U.S. Navy’s training needs, protect the environment, not threaten wildlife and respect the concerns of local communities and property owners.

The study group met four times, including an Oct. 23 public hearing in Elizabeth City.

“Almost all of the public comments received by the study group stressed that placing an OLF in Northeastern North Carolina would have devastating economic, social and cultural consequences,” Eagles said in his letter to the governor.

Judge Eagles continued, “Based on expert presentations, exchanges with local governments and citizen testimony that we received, it does appear that the six additional locations may be more suitable from an environmental perspective than Site C (near the Washington-Beaufort county line.

However, the information provided to us also strongly demonstrates that there are genuine concerns that siting any OLF would have substantial adverse economic and cultural impacts to affected communities.

If the Navy is to proceed with placing an OLF in North Carolina, it should commit to providing economic incentives and working hand in hand with the communities to mitigate these concerns.”

Another concern for the OLF Study Group was the imbalance of benefits between where the Navy’s jets would be housed (Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia) and the OLF in North Carolina.

“One underlying theme that ran throughout these comments centered on the inequity of providing economic benefits associated with the (jet) squadrons to one region while the negative aspects of an OLF are shouldered by another region,” Eagles wrote in his letter to Easley. “A variety of negative economic consequences were cited as potentially arising from an OLF. These factors ranged from a devaluation of the property tax base, to a decrease in tourism revenue, to an impediment towards future residential, commercial and industrial development. I believe it is a fair conclusion that these economic and quality of life concerns are significant. Consequently, it is essential that the Navy meaningfully address these economic and quality of life considerations.”

Rear Adm. David Anderson, who has been leading the Navy’s effort to locate an OLF, has said that Navy Secretary Winter was expected to decide on or about Nov. 15 which of the six potential sites, if any, would be selected for further exploration and environmental study.

The members of the study group are: State Sen. Ed Jones (D-Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Perquimans); state Rep. Bill Owens (D-Camden, Currituck, Pasquotank, Tyrrell); state Rep. William Wainwright (D-Craven, Lenoir), Bryan Beatty, Crime Control and Public Safety secretary; Bill Ross, Environment and Natural Resources secretary; Jim Fain, Commerce secretary; Troy Pate, co-chair of the N.C. Advisory Commission on Military Affairs; Jane Preyer, regional director of the N.C. Environmental Defense Fund; Doug Parsons, member of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Management Commission and Ducks Unlimited; Marion Deerhake, member of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission and an environmental scientist; Paul Spruill, Beaufort County manger; David Peoples, Washington County manager; Peter Daniel, N.C. Farm Bureau Federation; and John Crumpler, formerly of the N.C. Economic Development Board.