Monday, March 05, 2007

Readers fire back on Navy's landing field plan

The Navy’s plan to put a jet landing field near a major wildlife refuge continues to draw reader interest. Here are a few responses from Sunday’s column about the proposal
From a reader named Dave:
I just read your opinion piece on the OLF and I have some questions:
Why is everyone so fixated on Open Grounds? The Navy already has an electronic warfare bombing range there and has ruled it out because of that. But Easley keeps harping on it...
Why isn’t Easley pushing for more squadrons of F/A-18EFs at Cherry Point? It seems like he should go talk to the folks in Havelock and New Bern and get their opinion about the OLF before representing only part of the state.
What about a parallel runway at Cherry Point? Havelock and New Bern would welcome it.
What about (federal Judge) Terry Boyle’s home being in the flight path for the OLF? Does that cloud his judgement?
You should look into these questions before ever writing about the OLF again if you want to write a story that amounts to more than political finger pointing.
My reply:
Thanks for your note. Open Grounds farm is, best of all, a former wetlands that the Navy could do a lot of environmental good by putting the airfield there and restoring the wetlands. It’s in a good location strategically; there is a bombing range some miles away, but not much closer than the bombing ranges near the Washington County site. The Navy ruled out Open Grounds not for any other reason than that it doesn’t want to have to coordinate traffic or landings with the Marine Corps, which as you accurately suggest, has sufficient room for parallel landing strips already. But there is considerable inter-service rivalry that could make taxpayers pay lots more money than they need to build the field.
As for putting more Super Hornets at Cherry Point: Of course that would be a good idea. But a lot of us remember when the Pentagon planned to put more aircraft at Cherry Point after an earlier BRAC base-closing exercise, and politics steered those aircraft away from North Carolina. A lot of folks worry that’s exactly what will happen again even IF the OLF does come to North Carolina. But you are right about this, too: The area around Havelock and New Bern would welcome the pilots, planes and crew. They’re on record as saying so.
About Judge Boyle’s home: He is indeed a resident of Elizabeth City but it is probably a stretch to say he’s in the flight path. At the altitudes those aircraft fly en route from Oceana to any field in North Carolina, folks probably aren’t going to hear the aircraft any more than they hear the commercial aircraft flying over eastern North Carolina. But I’ll ask the judge next time I see him if he worries about overhead traffic.
As you may know, I’ve been researching and writing about the OLF for about five years and have written scores of articles on the OLF. I do keep learning about the OLF, but the questions you raise are not new ones. As for political finger pointing, you probably also know this: that’s my job.
Thank you for your note and thank you for reading the Observer.
From a retired Navy aviator who is fighting the OLF:
Great job! I’m really glad you were able to get some good quotes from the Governor.
BTW, I need to explain to the Governor the Navy intends to install Hot Refueling Pits at the OLF. Hot refueling means fueling the aircraft with the engines running from a ground mounted fueling station. It saves an enormous amount of time. And they will be fueling at the OLF, as opposed to what the Governor was indicating in your article. (“The Navy doesn’t want to fly from Oceana to Open Grounds and have to return to refuel, but Easley says those planes could refuel nearby.”)
Thanks for your coverage of OLF.
From a reader in Davidson:
The “Easley eyes political solution to Navy plan” pulled me right in. The intro indicated that he wanted an alternative to the Navy putting a field in the wrong place. One had to read a little further to realize that ANY place would be the wrong place for Mr. Betts. Migratory waterfowl and bird collisions are up there with family farms and apple pie that will be victims. I seem to remember California Condor deaths from the greenie cure for the common cold . . . . . windmills. Poor Jack is mad at the elected officials that betrayed the public. Then he reminds us that three decades ago, elected officials almost allowed an unnamed out-of-state utility to build (gasp) a hydroelectric project.
Going back to simpler living made sense to Oliver Douglas on “Green Acres,” as he drove his Lincoln Continental. That’s what Jack wants for himself, and since he is smarter than us, he wants to compel us to taking progress backwards. Hydroelectric generating stations provide pollution free power, flood control, recreation, and generally huge amounts of property tax, as homes get developed on the shore. Why wouldn’t an elected official want that?
The last time I checked, the Navy is putting this where it would impact the fewest people; same birds. Moreover, nothing would be more beneficial to the locals. The only growth those residents are seeing is negative. The kids that grow up there move away, because there is nothing for them. The Navy facility would not cure all of that, but it would bring in huge amounts to the local businesses.
The biggest shame is that you give an opinion like his front page coverage. I miss the optimism of Ronald Reagan, and the way he saw growth that benefited the masses.
And my reply:
You’re wrong. The OLF would be welcome in North Carolina, and I’ve said so in the past and will continue. But it makes more sense at Cherry Point on a parallel runway where there’s already room and a welcoming committee ready to embrace more operations, or at Open Ground farms, where the Navy could put the field AND do significant environmental improvements by restoring vital wetlands that were destroyed in the 1970s, or at the site near Vanceboro where there’s plenty of room.
Re the hydroelectric plant: You probably know this, but just in case: It was a pumped storage peak-demand project that would require more daytime energy to pump water back upstream to fill the lake than it would produce for peak-demand periods late in the day or early mornings -- and North Carolina wouldn’t have gotten anything from it. The project was proposed by American Electric Power Co. of Ohio -- and that’s why then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan opposed the project. So did President Gerald Ford. So did Jesse Helms.
And finally about growth in the northeast: I’ve spent some time up there with farm families, and you’re dead wrong about that, too. Those kids want to stay on the farm. It’s a God-fearing, patriotic group up there with sons and daughters in the military who hope to come home and run the family farm.
Ronald Reagan opposed the hydroelectric project in northwestern North Carolina, and my guess is after he talked with folks in northeastern North Carolina, he’d have reservations about that, too.


Anonymous said...

I applaud your sustained coverage of the OLF catastrophe and wish you could get McClatchy Inc., to raise hell about this too.

People who talk about Washington County like it's nothing - or who have the illusion that this OLF will bring jobs or anything positive to the area don't know what they're talking about. It's easy to be an armchair opinionator . . . all these folks need to do is take a trip out east in January and they'll see first hand what an insane plan this is.

The entire deal should go to Cherry Point, as you've suggested. The only question is . . . why won't Elizabeth Dole make that happen? Why is she so hell-bent on an inefficient deployment and an OLF that will almost certainly cost pilots' lives. Don't bother to answer. This is the same Liddy Dole who's supporting George Bush's idiotic war in Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Jack, I think that the Washington/New Bern/Oriental area has a great future as a retirement destination for all these millions of retiring baby boomers. How would the OLF affect this? Wouldn't the noise be a factor.

David McKnight said...

Sen. Elizabeth Dole is to be commended for having taken a firm and unambiguous stand against the despoilation of the precious wetlands of coastal Washington County and against the unnecessary obliteration of a wildlife and ecosystem truly unique on the entire East Coast of the United States.

One recent news report about the U.S. Navy's attitude toward the Washington County wetlands quoted a Navy official as asserting that the birds "can find someplace else to go."

Gov. Jim Martin used to put forward an instructive and progressive notion that North Carolina should strive to be "One United State," and presumably he was speaking about the equal aspirations of each region of the Tar Heel State.

Well, we should perhaps also consider asserting that the state that North Carolina should also be "one equal state," i.e., on equal footing with all the other states in the Union. There is way too much political pressure coming into Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park region for North Carolina to take its policy directives from politcal organizations in other states in the Union, from New York to Texas and beyond.

This in turn goes to the heart of the Navy's bureaucratic views toward Washington County, N.C. Too many people in Washington, D.C., think that the coast of North Carolina is just some "fill-in-the-gaps" stretch of shoreline between the commercially better-known coasts of Virginia and South Carolina. Liikewise, our friends in Georgia must wonder if official Washington looks upon their coast as some sort of "missing link" between the beaches of South Carolina and Florida.

North Carolina has always been ready and willing to carry its fair share of the responsibility for maintaining a strong national defense for this country, and this includes not only the numbers of North Carolinians volunteering for service in the military since the days of the Revolutionary War, but also providing military-related equipment supplies and land for an entire array of military bases.

But as many of the UNC Public Television Network's programs on the natural life and environmental bounties within the borders of this state have documented, with solid scientific groundings, there are certain regions from the mountains to the coast in North Carolina which are hosts to a surprising abundance of rare collections of zoological and botanical wildlife that are nowhere to be equaled or duplicated throughout the entire Nation.

Therefore, this state's political, educational and yes, business leraders too, must continually review this delicate and irreplaceable treasure of natural resources and, in keeping with the environmentally friendly and harmonious economic development legacies of a whole host of previous North Carolina governors, cordially yet firmly remind the good people in charge of the agencies and departments of the federal government that these plant and wildlife reserves are vital to the well-being not only of North Carolina but also of the whole country well beyond the borders of the Old North State.

Nowhere in the state of North Carolina or throughout the South can the case be more strongly made that the natural bounty of a unique and rare coastal habitat should be protected from unwise and unnecessary intrusion than is clearly and plainly evident for all to see and experience in the richly varied wildlife of Washington County, N.C.

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