09/21/07 — Officials don't think Duplin will get landing field nod

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Officials don't think Duplin will get landing field nod

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 21, 2007 2:06 PM

Local officials don't think it's likely to be selected, but the Angola Bay game lands, which straddle southern Duplin County and northern Pender County, are on a new list of potential sites being considered by the Navy for its outlying landing field.

Searching for a suitable location for its F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets to practice aircraft carrier night landings, the Navy had selected a site in Washington and Beaufort counties. However, it is facing unified and strong opposition from local and state political leaders -- largely because of its proximity to a wildlife refuge frequented by thousands of migratory birds.

The Navy's new list, which was provided by state officials for consideration, includes two sites in Camden County, two in Gates County, one in the Hoffman State Forest on the Jones-Onslow county line and one in the Angola Bay game lands in Duplin and Pender counties.

Another four sites also are still being reviewed by federal environmental regulators.

The 30-square-mile Angola Bay area has been identified as a potential OLF site before, Duplin County officials said, but this time, they didn't know the popular hunting fields were even being discussed.

"I thought that was a dead issue. The first time it came up, three or four years ago, we never got out of the first round. I don't even think it was seriously considered," said Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge. "We haven't even been approached about it this time, so I don't know how much credibility it has as a potential site.

"But I do think we'd have some concerns about it -- just like anywhere else -- as far as environmental impact and impact on the folks living near there."

Commissioner Harold Raynor also said that he doesn't think the site is likely to be seriously considered, in large part because it's so much farther out of the way than the others. The jets using the landing field will likely be coming from Oceana Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock.

Ten additional sites have also been offered by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, and U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, a former Navy secretary, is urging the reconsideration of Fort Pickett, which is about an hour southwest of Richmond.

Additionally, Rear Adm. David Anderson, vice commander of U.S. Forces Fleet Command at Norfolk, Va., has indicated that most of the Navy's interest in North Carolina lies in the northeastern counties -- though state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, has already expressed worries about the lack of short-term gain and potential harm to long-term growth.

Those same concerns were voiced by state Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, regarding the Angola Bay site.

"I'd just as soon see it someplace else, but that's just me," he said.

Albertson also said that he's worried about the impact the field would have on the pocosin game lands themselves, though state Wildlife Resources Commission Chairman Wes Seegars said that he thinks the effects on local wildlife and hunters would likely be minimal.

"It'll have some sort of impact, I'm sure. That's just the price of freedom," Seegars said. "But I'm not aware of any concerns the wildlife commission would have in working with the state and the military if this site is recommended."

Navy Secretary Donald Winter is expected to narrow the list of potential sites from 22 to between three and five by mid-November.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.