No Outlying Landing Field for Washington County
In the absence of political, environmental or local support, the Navy today announced it is abandoning its plans to build an Outlying Landing Field in Washington and Beaufort counties in North Carolina. In addition to the absence of congressional support, the proposed project has met opposition from environmentalists, local community members, and North Carolina’s political leadership.
“This is a tremendous victory for the local community and the wildlife refuge that would be devastated by the operation of a landing field at the proposed site. We salute the Navy’s ultimate recognition that this was not the place for an OLF,” said Derb Carter, director of the Carolinas office of the Southern Environmental Law Center which represented the environmental interests in the case.
The Navy also announced that it is abandoning four other North Carolina sites previously under consideration in Craven, Bertie, Hyde and Perquimans counties. Instead, the Navy will consider two new sites in North Carolina — Sandbanks in Gates County and Hales Lake in Camden/Currituck counties — and three in Virginia – Cabin Point, Mason, and Dory.
Congress failed to provide money for the project in this fiscal year and taken steps to de-authorize funding for the project in the future. Previously, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Navy had violated federal environmental laws in planning for the OLF.
For five years the Navy has attempted to locate a landing field to practice jet take-offs and landings 3.5 miles from Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge hosts more than 100,000 snow geese and tundra swans, and other waterfowl each winter, which would be greatly affected by the Navy jets that would use the OLF to practice each day. In addition, the Navy’s OLF plans prohibited farmers from growing corn, wheat and soybeans – staples of the local farming economy – on 25,000 acres of farmland surrounding the proposed landing field.
“The Navy said it wanted this site for the OLF because it was ‘in the middle of nowhere’ ignoring the fact that it’s the center of the universe for thousands of migrating birds and home to generations of farming families,” said Michelle Nowlin, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the National Audubon Society, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife and the law firm of Kennedy Covington, representing the community interests in the case, filed a lawsuit against the Navy in 2004, arguing that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act in planning for the OLF. This lawsuit resulted in rulings from a federal district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Navy had indeed violated national environmental laws in selecting the site for the OLF.
“Audubon applauds the Navy’s decision today to steer clear of the proposed landing field site next to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge,” said Chris Canfield, Executive Director of Audubon North Carolina. “This is a victory for the hundred thousand birds that winter there and for the farmers that live there. It is a victory for the people of North Carolina and the political leaders who represent them. And it is also a victory for the Navy and its pilots, which deserve the safest training possible, without the threat of catastrophic collisions with large birds.”
While the Navy was redoing its court-ordered environmental analysis, North Carolina’s top officials came out against the Navy’s preferred site for an outlying landing field in Washington County including Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Sen. Richard Burr, a majority of the state’s congressional delegation, Governor Mike Easley, numerous state agency heads and the state Senate and House leadership.
“Vistors to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, both those who live nearby and those who travel to see this magnificent place, come here for the chance to glimpse endangered red wolves, black bears, and tens of thousands of wintering ducks, geese and swans,” said Noah Matson, Vice President for Land Conservation for Defenders of Wildlife. “We are happy the Navy is no longer considering this site, because it is in everyone's best interest to keep Pocosin Lakes exactly what it is, a refuge for wildlife and those who love the outdoors.”