01/20/05 — Undeterred: Navy is pushing ahead on practice landing field

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Undeterred: Navy is pushing ahead on practice landing field


That seems to be the best word to describe the attitude and conduct of the U.S. Navy in its obsessive pursuit of locating an outlying landing field in Washington and Beaufort counties.

It has ignored objections of property owners, local governments and environmental organizations, the concerns of its own people preparing its case, objections of the U.S. congressman representing the area, and the fact that the issue is in federal litigation.

In recent days, the Navy announced it was condemning 1,572 acres to add to 1,100 acres it already has acquired for the “core area” needed for the project. The core area represents around 2,600 acres of the 30,000 acres the Navy says it needs for the field.

For the core acreage area alone the Navy has allocated $6.5 million of taxpayer money and is proceeding full speed ahead despite the fact it could be blocked by the courts — or by Congress.

The issue has smacked of skullduggery from early on.

At first, the Navy planned to locate eight squadrons of F-18 Super Hornets in Virginia and use a field there for training pilots in carrier landings. Residents of that area in Virginia objected to having the field near them because of the noise of the aircraft. The Virginians apparently had some political clout.

So the Navy came up with a plan to acquire land in eastern North Carolina for the outlying landing field, or OLF. In an apparent effort to generate enthusiasm on the part of North Carolina politicians, the Navy announced it was creating two additional squadrons and would locate them at Cherry Point Marine Air Station.

The landing field is beside a federal game preserve that serves as a wintering home for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl including such large birds as tundra swan, snow geese and Canada geese.

Wildlife officials and environmental agencies have expressed their concerns for the effect on wildlife — and on the air crews whose planes could encounter damaging and potentially fatal bird strikes.

A committee named by the governor heard both sides, studied the facts, then recommended consideration of alternative sites.

Internal communications have revealed that some of the Navy’s own people, assigned to consider these and other factors, had concerns and felt they were being expected to tailor their reports to justify pre-determined decisions.

When suits were filed, a federal judge ordered the Navy to hold up on its proceedings.

It took another order to convince the Navy it had to stop all work on the project until the suit was decided.

But last week, an appeals court overturned the earlier ruling and almost immediately the Navy filed condemnation proceedings to determine the price for the remaining 1,600 acres for the “core area.“

This was despite the fact that the suit is still pending and Congressman G.K. Butterfield had succeeded in withholding further appropriations for the OLF.

To whom is the Navy answerable? Is it getting some winking and nodding from Raleigh and Washington?

Or is it just arrogance on the part of admirals who understand the concern of politicians fearful of upcoming base closings?

Published in Editorials on January 20, 2005 8:36 AM