Local News

Navy Proposes New Sites for Controversial Landing Field

Posted January 22, 2008

— Navy officials said Tuesday they will not build an outlying landing field for jets near a wildlife reserve in eastern North Carolina, a site widely opposed by local residents, environmentalists and state officials.

The 50,000-acre location, which straddles Beaufort and Washington counties, was removed when the Navy narrowed its list of finalists from more than 20 to five, which include two in North Carolina – Hale's Lake in Camden and Currituck counties and Sandbanks in Gates County – and three in Virginia – in Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties.

The new proposals "each have operational, environmental and population characteristics that make them viable site alternatives for further analysis," the Navy said in a news release.

The Navy will hold public meetings in the spring on the new proposed sites.
Fighter pilots would use the 8,000-foot OLF to simulate night landings on aircraft carriers. The darkened rural area would simulate a carrier deck on a dark ocean.

Navy officials said the strip is needed to reduce use of an existing strip in Virginia that is now surrounded by residential areas.

The final decision on the $230 million project could be more than two years away, the Navy said.

The original site in Beaufort and Washington counties was opposed by local residents and state officials.

Environmentalist groups that sued the Navy said it was too close to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a stopping point for thousands of migratory birds, which they feared could pose a danger to jet airplanes.

Local residents had complained the site would hurt farmers who sold their land and reduce property tax revenues for the county.

"All of that hard work and vigilance over the past five or six years has paid off," said Jennifer Alligood, leader of a group that had opposed locating the field at the site that straddles Beaufort and Washington counties. "We have proven that grass roots can beat the system."

In a written statement announcing the finalists, the Navy said it "believes that by working with state and local officials, we can understand their perspective on the issues and seek common ground on ways to mitigate impacts and identify potential benefits."

The two remaining North Carolina sites still have plenty of skeptics, including powerful Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare. Locating the OLF at the Camden-Currituck site, within his district, or the Gates County location would hurt farmers and deter growth in the region and fail to create enough financial benefit, Basnight said.

All the counties listed among the finalists had earlier approved resolutions opposing the landing field.

Many North Carolina elected officials - including Gov. Mike Easley and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole - have tried to balance the state's military-friendly stance with environmental and citizen concerns. An Easley cabinet member met with Navy brass last March to seek alternative sites.

In a statement, Easley said he was pleased that the Navy removed the Beaufort-Washington site but added the state now must know what economic benefits come with the landing field before local residents "will be able to decide whether it is satisfactory to have the OLF in their communities."

Although the landing field would only generate 50 jobs, Dole has said it could provide future economic benefits, such as an East Coast base for the next-generation fighter jet.

But Dole reiterated Tuesday that broad local support for the landing field is essential: "I will oppose the Navy's efforts to acquire any site in North Carolina that fails to meet this standard."


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Kingfish Jan 22, 2008

    Why not anchor a retired Aircraft Carrier in the middle of one of the sounds. It can't get much more realistic than that. They have target ships anchored in the sound now, and no one is upset by them.

  • oceanchild71 Jan 22, 2008

    If we have computer simulators where pilots practice flying and landing commercial jets, why can we not use the same technology for this? It would be much safer and less expensive for everyone! Then to keep their certification up or however it is done, they do the real deal out at sea and let people keep their land!

  • PaulRevere Jan 22, 2008

    Build it in SE Raleigh. :-X

  • lyjagrant Jan 22, 2008

    Besides being somewhat of an equal distance between Oceana and New River MCAS, is so the pilots can practice the landing on the carrier deck in a considerably safer manner, so the can protect all of us in the USA.

  • RonnieR Jan 22, 2008

    The reason that NC is where the Navy wants the OLF is
    so it is about equal distance from NAS Oceana and MCAS
    Cherry Point.

  • gt705 Jan 22, 2008

    Camden would be the best choice.

  • bluewater Jan 22, 2008

    Ah, the sounds of the NC "patriots". Probably real estate agents.

  • zeitghost Jan 22, 2008

    Don't look for Libby Dole on this. She didn't have anything to say about the Washington County proposal until the middle of 2007. She is invested in keeping NC 'military friendly' (which we are, and we SHOULD be, to a reasonable point.). She tried to straddle a non-existent fence. The locals actually had more to do with the Navy dropping the site from their list than any action or intervention on the part of our elected representatives. That and the fact the the Navy proposal was half-addled to begin with. Poorly written, almost completely unresearched. I think they looked at google earth and picked a big bare patch and said "There.".

  • oceanchild71 Jan 22, 2008

    Start contacting our reps now and tell them that we don't want it! The Camden/Currituck areas are just now starting to really grow (Currituck has been for a while) and locating this there would kill the economies there.

    Like zeitghost said, there will be absolutely no economic benefit from this. All NC will get is noise, pollution, and depressed property values.

  • tgw Jan 22, 2008

    Amen Zeitghost. Fentress Air Field is 5 min. from Oceanna. However, the developers pay heavily to the Va Congressional and Senate delegations to be sure they can build on all available land. Screw the Navy. Screw the extra jet fuel required to go farther.

    McGridlock for McMansions - wonderful. Let Va. Beach have it.

    Oh, our own Congressional Members have been fairly quiet concerning this. Senators from NC have been equally indecisive until pressure got to them. Humm, wonder why?????????

    Oh well, build it any where the birds are not!! Our Pilots would be in real danger where they are proposing it now!!