Local News

N.C. Task Force Still Pushing Alternate Site For Navy Landing Field

Posted April 22, 2004 6:10 a.m. EDT

— Members of a governor's task force studying the Navy proposal to build a jet practice landing field in eastern North Carolina continued Thursday to push an alternate site.

Task force member John Pechmann of Fayetteville, a lawyer who is chairman of the state Wildlife Resources Commission, said he didn't understand why the Navy didn't reconsider a site in Carteret County that's mostly a huge farm owned by an Italian company.

Capt. Stu Bailey, project manager for the North Carolina field, said the Carteret County site sits south of Piney Island range that military aviators use for bombing and aerial combat practice. Other restricted air space nearly surrounds the site as well, he said.

Bailey had just answered questions about the landing field in California, located on San Clemente Island, east of San Diego, which also has lots of activity. The landing field shares the area with a naval bombardment range that warships use for target practice.

Navy officials schedule conferences so they know which unit is using the San Clemente field when, Bailey said.

That would work in North Carolina as well, Pechmann said. "I think if scheduling conferences can work on the West coast, scheduling conferences can work on the East coast," he said.

But Bailey said that at San Clemente, the military can conduct naval gunfire on one end of the island while landing field operations proceed at the other end.

The Navy wants to spend $186 million to buy more than 30,000 acres of land in Washington and Beaufort counties and build an outlying landing field, or OLF, to serve F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters that it plans to base at military airfields in Virginia and North Carolina.

A federal judge this week stopped the Navy from performing more work on the project while a lawsuit by the counties and environmental groups is heard. The Navy is reviewing the ruling, said a spokesman who couldn't say if the Navy will appeal.

Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, said he hoped Gov. Mike Easley will empower the task force to take an active role in finding an alternate site for the landing field. His group is one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that contends the Navy didn't consider environmental damage when it selected the remote site near Plymouth.

Easley has said he wants the Navy to base jets in North Carolina, but has concerns with the Washington County site. The issue has taken on political tones, with Democratic Senate candidate Erskine Bowles saying Wednesday that he opposes the Washington County site.