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Proposal Would Remove Need For OLF In Eastern N.C.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — There is a new push to keep an outlying landing field out of North Carolina. A federal commission recommends moving the jets to Florida.

For about five years, the Navy has been trying to buy 30,000 acres of land in Washington County to build a runway. Fighter jets would use the runway to practice takeoffs and landings. Opponents said building the runway would affect wildlife and the environment.

Currently, 250 of the jets are at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. A federal commission recommends sending Oceana's jets to Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

If Florida meets certain criteria by the end of the year, Cecil Field would get the jets, Oceana would likely close and there would be no need for a runway in Washington County.

However, the mayor of Jacksonville and people who live near Cecil Field insist Oceana keep the jets and contend with all their noise, which would then put Washington County back in play.

"The smart and reasonable thing for the Navy to do would be to stop all work on the landing field in North Carolina until it determines whether Oceana is going to remain open. But given past actions, it may be too much to expect the Navy to be smart and reasonable," said Derb Carter, of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Navy officials said it would be smarter to plan on the site in Washington County than to pin hopes on a distant field in Florida loaded with opposition.

The Department of Defense will ultimately determine whether the jets go to Cecil Field or stay at Oceana. That decision will likely come early next year.

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