Hagan, Burr battle OLF

Published 9:02 am Thursday, June 10, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The ongoing battle continues to keep the U.S. Navy from constructing an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) at any of the five sites currently on the Navy’s short list, including the Sand Banks area of Gates County.

Earlier this week, U.S. Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Richard Burr (R-NC) ignored traditional party lines and joined forces to offer an amendment to the 2010-11 Senate Defense Authorization bill.

As outlined by the two North Carolina Senators, the amendment mandates that the Navy submit a complete report to Congress on the suitability of existing OLFs and military airfields along the East Coast before the Navy can even consider spending money on a new OLF.

The defense bill, including the provision, was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week. Hagan and Burr are both members of that committee, one comprised of 16 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) serves as the Committee Chairman. John McCain (R-Arizona) is the Committee’s Ranking Member.

The measure will now advance for consideration by the full U.S. Senate.

“This amendment restricts funding for an Outlying Landing Field in North Carolina and Virginia until the Department of the Navy justifies the cost of its construction in a series of exhaustive studies that are to be submitted to the congressional defense committees,” a Burr spokesman said.

“I am working in the Senate to prevent the Navy from placing an OLF in Northeastern North Carolina,” Hagan said in a press release on her website. “The Navy has existing OLFs and military airfields. These facilities must be evaluated before planning any new OLF, which I, along with the citizens of North Carolina, strongly oppose.”

Hagan, the state’s freshman Senator, has been unwavering in her opposition to a new OLF since first being elected to office in 2008.

In March of last year, Hagan visited the region and met with citizens to discuss their opposition to an OLF. The Navy is also looking at the Hales Lake area in Camden County as a possible OLF site.

That meeting was held at the Camden County Courthouse and attended by nearly 50 individuals, including Gates County Commissioners Kenneth Jernigan and Graham Twine along with Gates County Manager Toby Chappell.

“Locating the OLF here will not only impact your quality of life, but will also reduce your home values and prevent further economic growth and prosperity,” Hagan said at that meeting. “This is not about you being inconvenienced. This is about your way of life and your livelihood being threatened.”

She continued, “Ultimately, I do not believe that the placement of an Outlying Landing Field here should take precedent over the interests of citizens in Gates, Camden and other surrounding counties. “This is a position I’ve held for quite some time and the viewpoints I’ve heard here today only reinforce my opposition. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the delegation to ensure the OLF is not located in these peoples’ backyards.”

Navy officials are studying five possible sites for the OLF. In addition to Gates and Camden counties, the Navy has a trio of southeastern Virginia (Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties) sites on their short list.

The Navy has been seeking to develop an OLF since 2000, saying it needs such a facility to support training for aircraft stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana and Naval Station Norfolk.

Meanwhile, Citizens Against OLF, a grassroots organization in Gates County, have lobbied against the proposed airfield since the Navy placed the county on its list in 2007.

Last August, the Navy announced a delay in the release of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that examines those five sites. The Navy has made no indication of when it expects to release the EIS. That delay has pushed the OLF timeline to the point that it will now coincide with the commencement of the EIS process for homebasing of the new F-35C Navy Joint Strike Fighter.

Meanwhile, there is some apprehension among those closely following this ongoing issue that the new F-35C aircraft is louder than the F/A-18 C/D currently used by the Navy. Thusly, there is the possibility that the Navy will need to expand the buffer around the core area (approximately 2,000 acres needed for the airfield, air traffic control tower and support buildings) in order to mitigate noise-related impacts.

The current buffer area (approximately 25,000 acres) encompasses an area in Gates County from the Chowan River northeastward to Gatlington Road, Boone Town Road, Byrum Road, Parker Lane, Saunders Road, Smith Road and most all of Sand Banks Road. The current buffer area is bounded on the southeast side by US 13 from Storys Crossroad north to the Tuggie Eure Road.

The proposed OLF in the Sand Banks area would also impact Hertford County, particularly the Winton area.