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

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Members of a governor's task force studyingthe Navy proposal to build a jet practice landing field in easternNorth Carolina continued Thursday to push an alternate site.

Task force member John Pechmann of Fayetteville, a lawyer who ischairman of the state Wildlife Resources Commission, said he didn'tunderstand why the Navy didn't reconsider a site in Carteret Countythat'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 thatmilitary aviators use for bombing and aerial combat practice. Otherrestricted air space nearly surrounds the site as well, he said.

Bailey had just answered questions about the landing field inCalifornia, located on San Clemente Island, east of San Diego,which also has lots of activity. The landing field shares the areawith a naval bombardment range that warships use for targetpractice.

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

That would work in North Carolina as well, Pechmann said. "Ithink 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 conductnaval gunfire on one end of the island while landing fieldoperations proceed at the other end.

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

A federal judge this week stopped the Navy from performing morework on the project while a lawsuit by the counties andenvironmental 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 takean active role in finding an alternate site for the landing field.His group is one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit thatcontends the Navy didn't consider environmental damage when itselected the remote site near Plymouth.

Easley has said he wants the Navy to base jets in NorthCarolina, but has concerns with the Washington County site. Theissue has taken on political tones, with Democratic Senatecandidate Erskine Bowles saying Wednesday that he opposes theWashington County site.

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