State officials up in the air over Navy flight plans

State officials up in the air over Navy flight plans-attachment0

Should the Navy build a practice airstrip — or Outlying Landing Field, in military parlance — five miles from Pocasin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina? The only chance for public testimony on that question in the western half of the state takes place in Charlotte on Tuesday, April 17, thanks to Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Dole asked Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter to add a “western” hearing to the list of six, now concluded hearings, which were located exclusively in the eastern part of the state. The proposed site, she notes, “is located in one of our state’s most treasured areas” and has attracted attention from “all corners of North Carolina.”

Dole has not taken an official position on the project, which is planned for 30,000 acres of active farmland in Washington and Beaufort counties. Sen. Richard Burr, however, announced his opposition to the OLF this week, calling it “an untenable proposition.” Gov. Mike Easley has repeatedly asked for consideration of alternative sites, stating that “spending millions of dollars to build the proposed OLF next to a world-renowned wildlife refuge for migratory birds is not an acceptable resolution.” The planned $221 million airstrip would serve as a night-landing practice field for F/A-18 Super Hornets based in Norfolk, Va.  And yes, collisions between the birds and jets are a high risk, according to military bird-strike experts.

The “western” hearing takes place at the Charlotte Convention Center on April 17, with an informal information period from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a formal hearing from 7 to 9 p.m. For more on the OLF debate, see the Raleigh News & Observer series “OLF: Collision Course.”

Nelda Holder, news and opinion editor



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