Local News

Local Leaders Fight State, Navy Plans for Practice Landing Field

Posted November 1, 2007 11:56 p.m. EDT
Updated November 2, 2007 11:25 a.m. EDT

— Leaders of two eastern North Carolina counties said building a Navy jet practice field would devastate their local economy and way of life.

Gov. Mike Easley’s office recommended six new locations in eastern North Carolina to the Navy as possible sites for an outlying landing field (OLF). Pilots flying F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters would use the landing field to simulate night landings on aircraft carriers.

The Navy’s was denied its first choice in Washington and Beaufort counties after outcry over locating an OLF near a wildlife refugee.

Leaders of Gates and Camden counties – home to four of the six newly suggested sites – on Thursday voiced their opposition to an OLF study group that Easley set up. Officials said the counties could not bear the economic costs of OLF.

“There is tremendous poverty in that region,” Camden County manager Randell Woodruff said.

A landing strip could remove as much as 30,000 acres of taxable land that provides more than half of the county governments’ income.

Other residents opposed to OLF argued it would uproot a rural way of life.

“You cannot replace a farm that your grandparents struggled through the Great Depression to keep,” Debra Vaughn, with the group Citizens Against OLF, said.

Navy leaders told the OLF study group that they have not singled out Gates and Camden counties for economic reasons, and the Navy is considering a total of 17 sites – 11 in North Carolina and six in Virginia. Other North Carolina sites are in Duplin, Jones, Onslow and Pender counties.

“This has nothing to do with the amount of money anybody makes,” Rear Adm. David Anderson said.

Some argued that North Carolina should make sacrifices for national security and needs to help the Navy find a place for the OLF.

“If we are going to continue to talk about being the most military-friendly state in the country, then I believe the time has come for us to make the tough choices,” 12th district U.S. Rep. William Wainwright, D-N.C., said.

Wainwright represents Craven and Lenoir counties, which have benefited form the presence of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

U.S. Navy Secretary Donald Winter is expected to make a report by Nov. 15 about whether the Navy will consider any of the proposed sites.