This Time, Navy Aims To Build Consensus For Landing Field

This Time, Navy Aims To Build Consensus For Landing Field
April 12th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: This Time, Navy Aims To Build Consensus For Landing Field

This Time, Navy Aims To Build Consensus For Landing Field
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
April 12, 2008 By Kate Wiltrout, The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK--The Navy says it’s taking a new approach to finding an outlying landing field for Oceana Naval Air Station – and top officials are pledging not to make the same mistakes their predecessors did.
Politicians and environmental groups still bruised from a long battle over a different site remain wary, though they said they welcome the Navy’s new commitment to cooperation and creative solutions.
Rear Adm. David Anderson, who’s leading the effort to find a site, said Navy Secretary Donald Winter has given him “wide latitude” to “question everything, down to how much we’re offering to pay for land, how we assess land, how much land we have to own.”
In January, Winter withdrew the Navy’s proposal for a field in Washington County, N.C. The site had garnered widespread criticism from residents, environmental groups and sporting organizations. The Navy’s analysis of the site, a few miles from a national wildlife refuge, drew sharp criticism from a federal judge and appeals court.
Eventually, North Carolina’s two senators and its governor also opposed the location.
Winter decided the Navy would examine five new sites – three in southeastern Virginia and two in northeastern North Carolina.
This time around, Anderson said, the Navy can’t afford to use the military’s standard procedure for locating a controversial facility.
“We look around and we find a spot on the map, and we plop our requirement down and force everybody to adapt to our requirement,” Anderson said.
“Legally, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), we’re authorized to do that. But I don’t believe that the Department of Defense and Department of the Navy can continue to do business like that in the future.
“When you completely disregard and disrupt communities’ and individuals’ lives, with this air of arrogance, they’re going to call their elected officials now in a way they have never done in the past.”
And those elected leaders respond by cutting off federal funding, he said.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., remains skeptical.
“I fear that now we could be heading down the same road and allowing history to repeat itself,” she wrote in a letter last week to Secretary Winter.
“I question whether it is prudent for the Navy to move forward with additional studies on these contested sites. ... North Carolinians vividly recall the several stressful years and several millions of dollars expended in studying the widely opposed Site C in Washington and Beaufort counties.”
Anderson hopes that bringing residents, local officials and non-governmental organizations to the table early will mute some of that criticism.
He insists that the Navy can find a creative solution.
“If the people want to farm, if that’s the biggest activity in the area that the community wants to continue, we’re working out ways for them to farm right up to the edge of the concrete,” Anderson said. “And if they want to go across the concrete, to work it out so they can have access to get across when we’re not flying.”
David Smith, Virginia’s deputy secretary of commerce and trade, said state officials are also talking to the Navy about economic development possibilities that could make the field more palatable to Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties.
“If you think about the asset we’ll have in place – a 10,000-foot runway – that could lend itself to other uses for that field when the Navy isn’t using it,” Smith said. One example: he mentioned a distribution facility where commercial cargo jets could land on the runway when the Navy wasn’t practicing.
“This is a very refreshing position the Navy is taking on something like this,” Smith said.
Anderson, a former A-6 Intruder and F/A-18 Hornet pilot, said he’d rather work with the potentially affected communities upfront to make the project as palatable as it can be.
“Let’s put everything on the table. Nobody’s writing checks right now. We just want to brainstorm and find out, 'What’s the art of the possible?’” Anderson said, using one of his favorite phrases.
He said the Navy is already talking to two environmental groups about a site in Gates County, N.C.
Representatives of The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund have been consulted on what’s called the Sandbanks site, Anderson said, to talk about “reintroducing some agriculture and threatened and endangered species we know are compatible with having an airfield there.”
Tom Cors, government relations representative for The Nature Conservancy’s North Carolina office, confirmed that the Conservancy is “engaged in the process,” partly because it owns 6,500 acres in Gates County adjacent to the proposed field.
Cors said the conservancy isn’t opposed to working with the military, noting that it started a conservation buffer program at Fort Bragg with cooperation from the Defense Department.
But he also said The Nature Conservancy is taking a “wait-and-see approach” with the landing field.
“There are just a lot of things we don’t know yet,” Cors said. “We really have to wait and see what sorts of impact will come out of the environmental impact statement to really understand what that means for conservation.”
He does think the Gates County site is less objectionable than the Navy’s old preferred location: “The environmental concerns are of a much different magnitude and scale than the Washington County site.”
Robert Crouch, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s assistant for commonwealth preparedness, said the Navy has learned some hard lessons, but he warned communities not to view Washington County’s outcome as an indication the Navy can be deterred.
“I think it’s a mistake for us to assume that there’s never going to be an OLF anywhere,” Crouch said. “There’s got to be a solution to this found, and it takes patience, and open-mindedness to listen and to be heard.”
Anderson knows that may be the biggest task he faces: getting residents in the five counties to listen and respond to the facts, not emotion.
He said he’s gotten calls from residents of Moyock, N.C., concerned that their quality of life would collapse because of jet noise if the landing strip were to be built in Gates County. In reality, Anderson said, they probably would not notice the jets, which would not fly above them en route to the field.
“We still are losing the battle on educating people about what it means,” Anderson said. “There’s an awful lot of misinformation out there.”

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