Monday, October 29, 2007

Navy's OLF search just got harder

The Navy has lost Marc Basnight, and that spells trouble for the service’s hopes for a Northeastern N.C. outlying landing field (OLF).
For years, some North Carolina officials and conservationists have been urging the Navy to try a new approach in its search for an outlying landing field (OLF) in Eastern North Carolina for its SuperHornet jets to practice aircraft carrier landings. That’s the editorial stance this newspaper has taken.
The Navy officially prefers a site in Washington and Beaufort counties near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which isn’t a good choice because of the likelihood of bird-aircraft collisions. Many tens of thousands of large waterfowl winter in the refuge each year and fly out daily to forage in nearby fields.
After stubbornly sticking to its first choice for years – and losing legal battles in federal court and even more important public relations battles in the court of public opinion – the Navy realized its errors and appointed Admiral David Anderson to handle the OLF search from here on.
Admiral Anderson has brought a new way of doing things to the job – including disarming candor and an ability to communicate that would have stood the Navy in good stead during its early, and sometimes bruising, dealings with local folks.
The Navy recently announced it would look at six new sites in Northeastern North Carolina, as well as new sites in Virginia, too. The secretary of the Navy will announce by Nov. 15 which if any of the new sites will formally go on the list of candidates for an OLF. But the Navy is finding that past experience may have thoroughly tainted the well and poisoned relations with local governments and key state officials as well.
Marc Basnight is a state senator from the northeastern part of the state. As president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, he is an influential state policymaker. The other day Basnight delivered a verbal bomb to the Navy, announcing his “total and complete opposition to proposed sites in Camden and Gates counties. This is an awful proposal that could mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for our children is obliterated.”
That’s a much stronger stance that Basnight’s previous stand on the OLF. He opposed the Navy’s site in Washington and Beaufort counties, but his Oct. 23 letter to Gov. Mike Easley’s OLF Study Group makes his position clear about putting the OLF in most of Northeastern N.C.: “Locating an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county is absolutely unacceptable,” he wrote.
Here’s the full text of his letter:
NORTH CAROL INA GENERAL ASSEMBLY
PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE
SENATOR MARC BASNIGHT
RALEIGH 27601-2808
1ST DISTRICT STATE LEGISLATIVE BUILDING RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA 27601-2808 TEL (919) 733-6854 FAX (919) 733-8740
October 23, 2007
Dear OLF Study Group:
I regret that I am unable to join you in person this afternoon, but I am pleased that my colleague, Senator Ed Jones, is a member of the Study Group and will add his valuable insight.
Please know of my very strong opposition to the Navy’s plans to build an OLF in northeastern North Carolina. Over the last six years, I have made my opposition to the proposed site in Washington and Beaufort counties clear. Today, I want you to know of my total and complete opposition to proposed sites in Camden and Gates counties. This is an awful proposal that could mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for our children is obliterated. I have expressed my position and the reasons for it to Governor Easley and Senators Dole and Burr and asked for their assistance in stopping these short-sighted and detrimental proposals.
For more than six years, the Navy pursued its plan to build an OLF in an area that is clearly unsuitable. Our experience with the Navy was pathetic, with so many untruths that built so much distrust into this whole process. The Navy still considers the Washington-Beaufort site an option and these new proposed sites are no better. In addition to the public safety risks, these sites pose danger to the local economy, to the environment and to the property rights of families who have worked this land for generations. Furthermore, the 52 jobs the OLF would create would not even begin to compensate for the jet noise and lowered property values that the project would bring for generations to come. Locating an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county is absolutely unacceptable.
I have been even more disappointed with the recent disclosure that an OLF would be primarily serving Super Hornet squads based at Oceana in Virginia—and not at Cherry Point in North Carolina. While Virginia Beach would receive the economic benefits, northeastern North Carolina would not. If Virginia Beach wants it, give it to them.
One option that deserves thorough exploration is building an offshore training platform in the Atlantic Ocean or perhaps in the Pamlico Sound. This concept is not a new one – in fact, the
Navy itself already has a Mobile Offshore Base program and has found that this is a feasible technology. My office previously consulted with engineering firms which determined that it would cost roughly $600 million to build an offshore training platform of similar size and scope to the currently proposed OLF – a cost that is negligible given that the entire U.S. Navy budget is more than $120 billion. This option would create opportunities and replicate the conditions that fighter planes encounter. By constructing a facility in the water, we can avoid safety hazards associated with aircraft crashing into the land, a school, a home or other structure. It also would not cause further economic damage in one of North Carolina’s most economically depressed areas, or denigrate the property rights of the landowners. We have shown this to the Navy previously and we will show them again. An offshore OLF would show the world that North Carolina, the most military-friendly state in the country, is at the forefront of helping to enhance our military capabilities.
It is my hope that even after all this time, we can work toward a solution that allows the Navy to meet its training needs, addresses the concerns of local residents, and continues the proud tradition of cooperation between the military and our state.
Sincerely,
Marc Basnight

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