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As Navy Gets Close To Choosing Washington County Airfield, Opposition Grows

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.C. — The United States Navy says it needs an open, isolated field, and Monday could be decision day for Washington County.

Washington County is a rural county in the eastern part of North Carolina, and that is exactly why the Navy wants to build a major runway there -- because it is out of the way. But as the Navy's final selection looms, opposition grows.

It has turned into a major fight over a muddy field. And the fight is for the birds.

The Navy says it must have a runway so that its F-18 Super Hornets can practice touch-and-go's. The Navy prefers Washington County.

"The truth is, from multiple perspectives, this place doesn't work," said Chris Canfield, of

Audubon North Carolina

, who opposes the Navy's plan for the field. "If the Navy puts this runway there, it is going to be a disaster for pilot safety, and it is going to devastate a globally significant national widlife refuge."

Canfield has some impressive allies, from Washington County to the Capitol. The Governor has just come out against the Washington County site, and so has Sen. John Edwards in Washington, D.C. In fact, Edwards has called for Congressional hearings on the issue.

The Navy, meanwhile, seems unfazed by the opposition.

"We picked what we think is the best site for training our young men and women to go and fly our aircraft into combat," said Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet. "The reality is, the refuge is five miles from where we would propose the outlying field be located."

Canfield said the Navy proposal is inadequate.

"These birds range as far as 20 miles in a day to feed," he said. "So the idea that five miles is a significant buffer just doesn't wash."

Natter would prefer Canfield stay out of the debate.

"Keep those folks who have other agendas not related to the interests of the people of Washington County and this community out of the discussion," Natter said.

The discussion now leads to a decision. The Navy could make that decision as early as Monday.

"I think that this is the best location," Natter said.

Canfield said his group is not through with its opposition.

"If, in the end, the Navy still decides to go ahead and choose that location, we will pursue all legal means we can find to stop it," Canfield said.

This weekend, the Washington County manager said the Navy announced it was delaying its decision for 60 days -- until mid-October. But a Navy spokesman told WRAL on Sunday that he is not aware of any change. He said the decision could come Monday but that it also could be several days or even weeks before a deicsion is made.


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