RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge, citing environmental concerns, ordered the Navy on Tuesday to stop work on a planned jet landing field in eastern North Carolina.
The temporary injunction, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle, was sought by opponents of the landing field who argued that the government's environmental impact studies downplayed the substantial risk of collisions between jets and birds in Washington County.
The government also minimized adverse impacts to the national wildlife refuge, according to the groups, who sued in January.
The order stops the Navy from negotiating for land, site preparation and construction on the site.
In his decision, Boyle said the plaintiffs "have raised serious, substantial and difficult questions as to whether the Navy acted arbitrarily and capriciously in deciding to construct the OLF (in Washington County), such that the Navy failed to provide the environment with the kind and quality of consideration it is due under law."
"Plaintiffs have provided significant evidence that the Navy may have failed to take a hard look at the environmental effects of its decision," Boyle wrote.
The Navy wants to build the outlying landing field, or OLF, in the middle of more than 30,000 acres of farm land near the town of Plymouth in northeastern North Carolina. Locals and environmentalists objected, and Gov. Mike Easley appointed a task force to study the issue.
"This is a major victory for all those who have tried so long to get the Navy to listen to reason and choose a safer, less damaging location for jet training," said Audubon North Carolina Executive Director Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, among the groups that sued to stop the OLF. "I hope the Navy will see this stay as a good time to work with state leaders in coming up with an alternative plan."
Lawyers for environmentalists and the counties of Washington and Beaufort had argued in court that the Navy doesn't know enough about how the proposed landing strip could damage the habitat of thousands of migratory birds in eastern North Carolina.
The plaintiffs had asked for the preliminary injunction while their separate lawsuits make their way through the system.