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Wednesday, 18 April 2007 00:00

Navy still at war with NC

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You have to admire the tenacity of America’s armed forces. We can all take pride in the heroism, courage and valor exhibited by America’s finest down through the centuries. And the U.S. Navy is no exception. In fact, most every red-blooded American male from baby-boomer age and before has surely stood on the bow of his crippled war ship, waved his saber and boldly declared, “I have not yet begun to fight,” or perhaps “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

 

But why is the Navy rattling its sabers and steaming full speed ahead on a collision course with the state of North Carolina, its citizens, its government, its wildlife resources commission and a plethora of environmental and conservation organizations?

The Navy has been seeking, since 2002, to locate an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (home to more than 100,000 wintering waterfowl) in Washington and Beaufort counties, in rural eastern North Carolina.

The OLF is designed for Navy pilots to simulate aircraft carrier landings and takeoffs. The Navy estimates there will be about 32,000 of these “touch and gos” annually. Unless there is need for deployment, in which case, this “surge” would create a 50 percent increase in touch and gos.

The Navy says it needs the new OLF because of the introduction of its new “super hornet” aircraft. The existing Fentress OLF in affluent Chesapeake County, Virginia, according to the Navy, was no longer adequate.

It seems the Navy decided it would be easier to usurp 30,000 acres of crackers’ farmland and mitigate — read harass and/or kill — for 100,000 waterfowl including one of the largest concentrations of tundra swans and snow geese in the Atlantic flyway, than risk the wrath of Virginia’s Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise, which, “advocated several measures that, if implemented, will significantly improve the quality of life of residents and make this area more attractive for business and tourism, most importantly, establish a second, remote outlying field at which routine touch-and-go operations would be conducted...”

Never mind that Pocosin NWR was established by Congress as an “inviolate” wildlife sanctuary – which, by the way, also includes bald eagles and red wolves. Never mind that the crackers in Washington and Beaufort counties, where the median income is $29,000 a year, will lose an estimated $3.8 to $6.9 million annually. Never mind that the governments of both counties, the governor of the state, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Audubon, and others all oppose the site. And never mind that there are alternatives — “Audubon is on the record objecting to the Pocosin Lakes NWR site (Site C) and to the Mattamuskeet NWR site (Site D). We believe there are a number of viable alternatives, including those not included in the Navy’s studies,” according to Chris Canfield, executive director of North Carolina Audubon and a former Air Force officer who worked at the Pentagon. Just rest assured that Big Brother is working in your best interest.

As this week’s Smoky Mountain News is being printed, a public meeting regarding the OLF will be under way in Charlotte. The Navy decided, under political and environmental pressures, to allow a wider discussion of the OLF issue.

And it makes sense, as Canfield noted, “The threat the Navy’s landing field poses is not just to a local community in Eastern North Carolina. It is to a globally significant wildlife refuge — a public natural resource that all our tax dollars have contributed to conserving. It is one of the premiere winter waterfowl sanctuaries on the East Coast. People all over the state should care and should voice their concerns. Indeed, people all over the country should.”

We will talk more about the OLF issue next week, after the Charlotte meeting.

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