Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Navy's 2003 dare: Hire your lawyers....

Word that the Navy has dropped five controversial sites in North Carolina for consideration of an outlying landing field no doubt has many northeastern N.C. residents relieved. But the Navy is still considering North Carolina by adding two new sites in this state to its list and three more in Virginia. Perhaps the Navy will do its required environmental study with more attention to detail this time, but it is also clear the Navy needs to start talking directly with local residents and figuring out if there is any way under the heavens to persuade local communities to welcome the outlying landing field. If the Navy can’t do that, its efforts probably are doomed on these N.C. sites, too.
Opponents of the OLF at a site near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Washington and Beaufort counties won’t have too much time to celebrate. But their grassroots work in those rural counties has been a model of civic intervention and persistence against long odds. Five years ago, when it appeared that the Navy could put the OLF anywhere it wanted, Admiral Robert Natter said as much. When there were rumblings of a lawsuit in mid-2003, here’s what Admiral Natter had to say:
“I’m absolutely convinced this (project) can stand up to a legal challenge.... If anyone wants to throw money at an attorney, be prepared to throw more.”
Well, now. The local citizens didn’t have a lot of money to throw at lawyers. But the Southern Environmental Law Center took up their cause, and so did a team of lawyers from the Charlotte office of Kennedy Covington, which was looking for a pro bono case.
And they gave the Navy’s lawyers a thumping in federal court before U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ruled the Navy had not done its homework in preparing its environmental impact statement. That was the first big victory by opponents of the OLF – and presaged Monday’s decision by the Navy to start all over again at other sites.

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