12/13/07 — Butterfield: Landing field site is mentioned in bill

View Archive

Butterfield: Landing field site is mentioned in bill

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 13, 2007 2:10 PM

The odds of the U.S. Navy locating its outlying landing field in Washington County decreased dramatically Wednesday as the U.S. House of Representatives approved an annual defense authorization bill that eliminates the site from future consideration.

"The House has taken the Washington County site off the table because it posed a danger to the community, pilots and aircraft," Rep. G.K. Butterfield said in a written statement.

The amendment repeals an earlier authorization that gave the Navy the authority to construct the field, which has faced local and state opposition since the proposal was announced.

Not only are officials concerned about the impact the landing field will have on their communities' quality of life and economic viability, but also the effect it would have on a nearby waterfowl sanctuary where thousands of birds winter every year. At its peak, there are about 25,000 tundra swans and more than 65,000 snow geese that fly out to feed in nearby fields.

Now, despite having already purchased more than 2,000 acres in Washington and Beaufort counties for the 30,000-acre OLF, which the Navy says it needs to train F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots for aircraft carrier landings, it will have to look elsewhere if the measure is approved by the Senate and signed by the president.

Already, there are more than 15 sites in North Carolina and Virginia currently under consideration, though Butterfield has also expressed concern about the two being looked at in Gates and Camden counties.

"This is a clear message that if the Navy wants to move forward with an OLF it must have the support of the community," he said. "The small number of jobs associated with the OLF simply could not offset the shock to the lifestyle and viability of these communities."

Also on that list is a site on the border of Duplin and Pender counties in the Angola Bay game lands -- a 30-square-mile state hunting ground, comprised largely of pocosin wetlands.

Duplin officials, however, do not believe Angola is a serious candidate, and state environment and natural resources spokeswoman Linda Pearsall noted that there are serious problems with the site in terms of wetlands and the orientation of the available land.

"The Navy is going to have to decide whether it's realistic or not ... if they decide to develop that site, they'd have some real issues," she has said.