Support requirement requested

Published 8:36 am Monday, March 2, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – Throughout their battle to keep the Navy from building an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in Gates County, Citizens Against OLF have had an ally in the form of Congressman G. K. Butterfield.

That support became even more evident in the nation’s Capitol on Tuesday.

Butterfield, who represents North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, asked the House Armed Services Committee for legislative language that would require the Navy to demonstrate strong community support before building an OLF.

“Congress should provide legislative language prohibiting the Navy from building on a site without first demonstrating strong support from the hosting community.” Butterfield said. “This would allow the Navy to investigate sites and strongly encourage the Navy to work with the community to achieve a mutually beneficial solution.”

The House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday with Navy officials on the challenges of acquisition and disposal of military lands in the 21st century. As a courtesy, Butterfield was invited by Subcommittee Chairman Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) to participate in the hearing given the potential impact of an OLF in northeastern North Carolina.

The hearing included testimony from Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Wayne Arny, Assistant Secretary of the Navy B. J. Penn, Assistant Secretary of the Army Keith Eastin and Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Kevin W. Billings.

In answer to Butterfield’s questions about how the Navy could mitigate community concerns, Arny reiterated the Navy’s commitment to engaging its Office of Economic Adjustment and looking at ways to offset any property tax losses.

Because time was limited, Butterfield submitted a statement with additional questions and said he believes the Navy will soon respond to his questions. Among his additional questions, Butterfield asked whether the Navy would object to legislative language prohibiting the military from building on a site without first demonstrating strong support from the hosting community.

Butterfield urged the subcommittee to adopt such language as part of a spending measure to help ensure the Navy works closely with the community during the process.

The Navy is proposing to construct an OLF to support training operations for carrier-based fixed wing aircraft squadrons stationed at NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, Va. and NS Norfolk Chambers Field, Norfolk, Va.

The Navy proposes to acquire about 30,000 acres for the OLF through a combination of fee-simple purchases and the purchase of restrictive use or conservation easements. Approximately 2,000 acres would be used for the core area, which would includes an 8,000-foot runway, aircraft traffic control tower/operations support center, aircraft and vehicle refueling stations, airport rescue and firefighting facility, firefighting training area and rotating beacon tower.

Currently, the Navy is investigating five sites: (1) Cabin Point, located in Surry, Prince George, and Sussex counties, Va.; (2) Dory, located in Southampton and Sussex counties, Va.; (3) Mason, located in Sussex and Southampton counties, Va.; (4) Sandbanks, located in Gates and Hertford counties; and (5) Hale’s Lake, located in Camden and Currituck counties.

“Understandably, this been a deeply emotional issue for the North Carolina communities considered,” Butterfield said. “The concerns largely center on the prospect of a diminished quality of life – greatly increased noise, the potential for accidents, environmental impacts and concerns over the vast amounts of private acreage becoming public lands and coming off local tax rolls.”

Since the Navy narrowed its list to the five aforementioned sites, private Gates County citizens have joined together in an effort to keep the Navy out. They have solicited and received support from Gates County and Hertford County officials as well as state House and Senate representatives.