OLF opponents prepare for public hearings

OLF opponents prepare for public hearings

New Bern, NC – INTRO - A series of public hearings regarding an outlying landing field proposed by the Navy in Washington and Beaufort Counties get underway next week. The field would provide a carrier landing practice area for Super Hornet squadrons based at Virginia Beach and Cherry Point. Opponents of the landing field expect a good turnout at the public hearings but have their doubts on whether it will sway the Navy's opinion. George Olsen has more.

Larry Thompson isn't giving up hope that the Navy may decide to locate their OLF at another site, but he doesn't sound encouraged.

15:24 I hope, but it seems to me a decision has been made and they'll hold the meetings and say thank you for your comments and now we're gonna do what we're gonna do.

Thompson is the executive director for the N-C Wildlife Federation in Raleigh. They're one of three non-profits who have brought suit against the Navy. The release in February of a supplemental environmental impact statement has prompted the public hearings. The Navy says it can manage the thousands of migratory waterfowl who inhabit the area with various mitigation efforts, from changing the crops grown in the area to dogs rousting the birds to, if all else fails, killing birds. Thompson can't see this working.

04:11 Not realistic at all. I don't think they'll poison snow geese and swans. I think what will try to happen is they'll use dogs to flush them but the swan and geese will come back. They're not going to go away, they'll come back to the area. It's a futile attempt to use dogs, to think they're going to move that many geese & swan from the area. They're trying to make this fit with methods we don't think will work.

In addition to the damage caused to waterfowl who inhabit the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge located near the proposed OLF, the Navy acknowledges that the endangered species the red wolf could be impacted by the landing field a discovery made since the first EIS was released.

09:00 Here the American public has spent a large amount of money on establishing this population of red wolves. Now that it's showing some signs of success, it would be really harmful to have that population impacted by this runway, which it certainly will. I think one of the dens is right on the runway line. It's there.

Thompson has his doubts on whether the hearings will sway Navy minds, which he thinks, given who the people are directly affected by the OLF, is a shame.

09:00 There may be many people who just believe it's bad but if the Navy really needs this to protect the country and keep us safe I've heard farmers say that if they believe that, because they love the country, they're military families, many have served in the military, they say if they really believed that they would be out there with the Navy with their tractors helping to create the field, they just don't believe its necessary to put it where they're trying to put it.

That's also the opinion of 1st District U-S Congressman G-K Butterfield.

03:53 Well, I've started talking with Mr. Murtha, who is the chairman of the defense subcommittee of appropriation, David Price and myself have collaborated on a number of occasions, and we're going to make a sincere effort to cut off funding not for the project, but for the project at this location.

The Congressman describes his position as o-k with an outlying landing field in North Carolina, just not at the Navy's preferred site. He mentions a site in Carteret County as a strong possibility a site the Navy considered but rejected.

02:07 The Navy is determined to place this field at this site, and I'm so disappointed that they are not willing to listen to the experts and the people who have the most to lose with this project.

Butterfield says he has the general support of the state's Democratic U-S representatives and still has hopes that the state's two U-S Senators will join him in pressuring the Navy to reconsider. And if that doesn't work

06:30 I've talked to all the major players. I've talked to everyone except George Bush. I was with him the other day and started to bring it up, but I'm going to save that for the Defense officials. If all those avenues fail, then I will discuss it with the President.

which may be what it takes. Larry Thompson says he's sure people will come out for the public hearings with good comments. But he thinks the greatest effect those comments will have will not be on Navy representatives at the hearings

13:38 I think what we have to do is go back to our elected officials and do it through the political process and ask the Congress to not fund an OLF in Washington County. I think that's our best hope.

Six public hearings regarding the Navy's proposed OLF in Washington and Beaufort Counties start Monday in Swan Quarter. They run through April 4th when the hearings conclude in Plymouth. I'm George Olsen.