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Navy delays OLF study

NORFOLK, Va. – The Navy has opted to delay its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in regards to its plans to construct an Outlying Landing Field (OLF).

In a press release issued early Friday afternoon, the Navy said the draft EIS study, one that examines five possible sites in two states, including Gates County, will be delayed due to new information that needs to be included in the study.

The Navy had set this month (August) for the release of the draft EIS.

“The environmental planning which would lead to a decision to establish an OLF has been a challenging process,” said the Navy in the press release. “Various delays have pushed the OLF timeline to the point that it will now coincide with the commencement of the EIS process for homebasing of the F-35C Navy Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). As NAS Oceana is the East Coast master jet base and the home for the F/A-18 C/D aircraft, the Navy will likely consider whether it should be identified as a potential candidate site for the JSF.”

Navy spokesperson Ted Brown of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command office in Norfolk, Va., told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in a Friday afternoon interview that even though Oceana has not yet been notified of whether or not the F-35C will be stationed there, the possibility of that occurring must be worked into the EIS.

“It’s a completely different type of aircraft…it’s the future of the Navy,” Brown said in regards to the F-35C. “If that aircraft uses the OLF, it becomes necessary to include all of its data in the EIS. We are obligated to provide complete data of all aircraft using the OLF.”

The F-35C naval variant will have a larger, folding wing and larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control, and stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier landings. The larger wing area provides increased range and payload, with twice the range on internal fuel compared with the F/A-18C Hornet, achieving much the same goal as the heavier F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Brown said the Navy, Air Force and Marines will each have different versions of the F-35C with all built by the same manufacturer.

“We’re glad to see the Navy is considering the effects of any and all aircraft that will use or potentially use the OLF,” Gates County Manager Toby Chappell said. “However, we would have preferred this announcement to have been the release of the EIS, one indicating that Gates County is not a viable site. This only leaves our citizens hanging on longer. They want to move on and have their lives return to normal without this dark cloud hanging overhead.”

The Navy is seeking to build an OLF, a military aircraft practice facility, in either Gates or Camden County. Three other possible OLF sites are in Virginia, one each in Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties. All five sites were identified in 2007 as possible locations.

Navy officials have been exploring the development of an OLF since 2000, with the original study including a site in Bertie County (that plan has since been removed from consideration). The Navy has promised to continue to work closely with the Congress, state and local officials, and the public to determine the best possible site. The Navy will continue to fully consider environmental impacts and remain transparent throughout the process.