Local News

Navy To Put OLF, Squadrons In N.C., Va.

Posted September 10, 2003 5:42 a.m. EDT

— The Navy will build a practice landing field for jets in Washington County and base squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets at existing bases in North Carolina and Virginia, local officials and a Defense Department source said Tuesday.

Bunny Sanders, mayor of Roper in central Washington County, said Rep. Frank Ballance, D-N.C., called her office to give her advance word of the decision. Brian Roth, mayor of the county seat of Plymouth, said he had been told of the decision by other officials of his town.

A Defense Department source told The Associated Press that the Navy's proposal would be made formal Wednesday.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the proposal calls for 120 of the $45 million F-18 Super Hornets to be located at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., and 24 at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

Super Hornets fly from aircraft carriers during deployments and the landing field would be used to practice carrier landings before the jets are deployed.

Residents near the proposed landing strip worried about the potential for noise, lost property and damage to the environment. They campaigned vigorously against it, protesting in their own towns and in Raleigh. Local officials passed resolutions urging Congress to hold hearings, and even Gov. Mike Easley urged the Navy to reconsider its plans.

"They had tunnel vision from the beginning on the Washington County site," said Roth, who was with Sanders in Raleigh on Tuesday to discuss the matter with Easley's staff.

"This is by no means a final issue," Sanders said. "We are meeting with the governor's office in the morning on a legal issue which we feel has the potential to give the governor significant leverage to assist Washington County, Beaufort County and eastern North Carolina and keep the (landing field) out of this county."

Navy and Marine officials in Virginia and North Carolina wouldn't comment or couldn't be reached.

Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet, has said Washington County was the Navy's preferred site for the field because jets from both bases can use it easily.

The Navy's decision, to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register, calls for eight Super Hornet squadrons and a squadron of spare planes to be based at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va. Another two squadrons of 12 jets each will be based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point near New Bern.