Rally Calls on Navy to Abandon Site for Proposed Landing Strip

Seeking to shoot down the Navy’s plans for an airstrip in eastern North Carolina, hundreds of people gathered in front of the state capitol Tuesday to urge state and national lawmakers to put an end to the project.

The Navy’s proposed air field would cover 30,000 acres across rural Washington and Beaufort counties, giving pilots a runway to practice difficult aircraft carrier landings.

The courts determined last year the Navy’s environmental study for the $230 million outlying landing field, or OLF, was flawed, and the Navy is now complying with a court order to re-examine the environmental impact on the region.

“The Navy failed to adequately investigate and study the landscape of eastern North Carolina to determine the best location,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Butterfield joined prominent state officials in opposing the site near Plymouth, but reiterated his support for North Carolina’s military-friendly tradition. The Department of Defense spends $5.8 billion annually in payroll in North Carolina.

“Our opposition has always been about the site, not the OLF itself,” Butterfield said.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing the Navy to continue preliminary work at the site while it takes a second look at the impact on wildlife, particularly the estimated 100,000 tundra swans and snow geese that winter at nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

A collision between one of the birds could disable the plane, endangering the pilot and nearby houses, opponents said.

Calls to the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Force Command in Norfolk, Va., were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Property rights advocates have also chastised the Navy for trying to use eminent domain laws to secure thousands of acres of farmland, some of which has been held for generations.

“The Navy’s proposed OLF is an egregious violation of personal property rights,” said Kathy Harkopf, legislative liaison for Freedom Works, a small-government advocacy group.

State officials have suggested a number of alternate locations for the landing strip, but none that has found favor with the Navy. Opponents said Tuesday they hoped public outcry and political action would persuade the Navy to accept an alternative.

“The Navy’s earlier analysis left too many questions unanswered,” said Bill Ross, secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “They now have a great opportunity to restore the public’s confidence in the OLF process.”