11/26/04 — Landing field: Early suspicions are corroborated

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Landing field: Early suspicions are corroborated

Internal documents have corroborated the obvious: The U.S. Navy has been hell-bent on locating an outlying landing field in rural eastern North Carolina despite environmental concerns and the concerns of property owners and local governments.

And it has orchestrated its “findings” to “justify” a pre-ordained decision.

The Navy’s cavalier attitude was demonstrated early on when it proceeded with purchasing land despite a federal court order to stand down until suits filed by environmental groups and local officials could be heard.

Now lawyers challenging the location have come up with exchanges of correspondence between mid-level Navy officers that are disturbing but shouldn’t be surprising.

In an e-mail to a fellow team member looking at environmental concerns, Cmdr. John Robusto said: “Up until the preferred OLF site was chosen everything made sense and all decisions could be logically explained. Now we have to reverse engineer the whole process to justify the outcome.”

The fellow team member had expressed “a very uneasy feeling about our criteria and the process.”

The issue goes back to the Navy’s decision to locate 10 Super Hornet squadrons at Oceana Naval Air Station and Fentress Landing Field, both in Virginia. Residents of the heavily populated Hampton Roads area expressed concerns over noise levels of the jet fighters.

Subsequently, the Atlantic Fleet commander, Adm. Robert Natter, assured civic leaders in Virginia that a remote landing field was being considered. Assistant Secretary of Navy Hansford Johnson supported locating the outlying field, or OLF, in North Carolina.

An e-mail from a project liaison officer in April 2003 noted that Johnson thought placing two of the squadrons at Cherry Point would get North Carolina’s congressional delegation to support the siting.

It apparently won support of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Gov. Mike Easley, while welcoming the prospects of the economic benefits of the squadrons, had concerns over adverse effects of the OLF on the environment and local communities.

Meanwhile, the Navy was telling its people to prepare a case for putting some of the squadrons at Cherry Point. In response, Cmdr. Robusto e-mailed his superiors: “In a nutshell, they want us to fabricate reasons why split-siting is beneficial to operational readiness. I have explained several times that there is zero operational benefit to split-siting.”

With the specter of military base closings on the horizon, politicians and citizens of states with bases are understandably circumspect in their dealings with the military’s high brass.

But the high-handed tactics of the Navy in ramming the OLF issue down the throats of eastern North Carolinians is unacceptable. Rep. Jones and Sen. Dole should not hesitate to say as much to the Navy.

Published in Editorials on November 26, 2004 10:31 AM