Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley on Wednesday urged the Navy to come up with alternative locations for an outlying landing field after a state panel found overwhelming local opposition to locating any field in eastern North Carolina.
Fighter pilots would use the field, or OLF, to simulate night landings on aircraft carriers. The darkened rural area would simulate a carrier deck on a dark ocean.
The Navy had sought to build the OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties, but public outcry over locating it near a wildlife refuge eventually killed that plan.
Six other sites were then proposed for the OLF, including four in Gates and Camden counties, but leaders in those communities recently expressed opposition to a panel that Easley had directed to examine the strategic, economic and environmental aspects of an OLF.
“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,” Easley said in a letter members of the state's congressional delegation. “They were overwhelmingly opposed to an OLF in their communities. They see an OLF as almost all burden and no benefit."
The governor, who also sent the letter to Navy Secretary Donald Winter, asked the North Carolina delegation to press the Navy for alternative OLF sites.
Winter was expected to decide by Thursday which of the six sites, if any, would be selected for further study.
But U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr said they don't think members of Congress should get involved in the dispute.
“We believe (the state) administration should continue its work with the Navy to come up with a site that has the support of the local community and meets the needs of the United States military. This lengthy process has been difficult on many North Carolinians, and we hope you would agree that our state is best served by a timely resolution to this matter,” Dole and Burr said in a statement.
Former state Court of Appeals Judge Sidney Eagles, who headed the OLF Study Group, said the Navy should provide incentives to communities to offset any impact from an OLF.
“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 a letter to Easley. "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.”