Gov. Perdue feels Gates, Camden counties safe from OLF

Published 12:04 am Saturday, January 29, 2011

RALEIGH – North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue spoke with an air of confidence on Friday afternoon.

Holding a conference call with state media outlets, including the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, the Governor said she and others were extremely pleased with Thursday’s announcement by the U.S. Navy that they were halting plans to conduct a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on five possible sites to construct an Outlying Landing Field (OLF).

Two of those sites are in northeastern North Carolina – the Sandbanks area of Gates County near the Chowan River and the Hales Lake site along the Camden-Currituck County border.

“We have told the Navy very directly all along that if our citizens didn’t want it (OLF), don’t bring it to North Carolina,” Gov. Perdue said. “(The Navy’s) announcement on Thursday was great news. This could not have happened without the strength of these communities and community groups (that opposed the OLF). This is great day for eastern North Carolina.”

The first question fielded by the Governor during the conference call came from this newspaper….“While the Navy’s decision to delay its DEIS was received as good news to the citizens of Gates and Hertford counties, the majority we’ve spoken with since Thursday remain cautiously optimistic. They are asking for complete closure on this issue in order to get on with the plans they had for improvements or new construction on their property; ones they have put on hold since 2007. Will you continue to closely monitor this issue and continue to press the Navy to look elsewhere should they proceed sometimes in the future with their plans to construct an OLF on the East Coast?”

“We all breathed a big sigh of relief on Thursday; I know I did after speaking with the Secretary of the Navy,” the Governor responded. “I feel pretty comfortable it is over. I would say to proceed with your plans.”

Gov. Perdue again stressed that the movement to keep the OLF out of rural North Carolina was not an anti-military sentiment.

“North Carolina loves and respects the military; our conversation over this issue was totally separate from that,” she noted. “(The OLF) posed an environmental hazard. Northeastern North Carolina would feel all of the pain with none of the gain.”

Meanwhile, two members of the United States Congress who call eastern ‘Carolina as home have asked the Navy to completely terminate its OLF efforts in the state.

“At this point the people of Gates and Camden counties have made it clear that and outlying landing field is not a good match for their communities,” First District Congressman G.K. Butterfield said in a press release issued Friday afternoon. “It’s time the Navy end the waiting game and shut this project down.”

Butterfield and fellow Representative Walter B. Jones made a written request after the Navy announced it was suspending its work and planning on the project until at least 2014.  The Navy said Thursday that it would delay further action on the outlying landing field (OLF) under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process until it initiated its study on potential east coast basing of the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).  A Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the OLF had been expected in August 2009, but has yet to be released.

Butterfield and Jones sent the letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus requesting immediate termination of the OLF project.

In the letter, Butterfield and Jones cited the lack of clear operational necessity, respect for local communities and fiscal concerns as reasons to terminate the project.

In the original Notice of Intent (NOI) filed by the Navy in 2008, the Navy stated that the OLF  support Field Carrier Landing Practice for fixed-wing aircraft at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  The airfield would be used for touchdown and takeoff of planes to simulate landing on an aircraft carrier.

The NOI listed five potential sites (the other three are in southeastern Virginia) for the 8,000 foot runway.

From the onset of the project, the local communities have expressed tremendous concern over potential adverse impacts of project on the environment, economy and quality of life. According to the Navy, no aircraft would be permanently based at the airfield and operations at the OLF would create very few jobs.

Given the delay and lack of community support, Butterfield said that he hopes that the Navy will seriously consider eliminating eastern North Carolina as a possibility.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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