Navy Secretary: We’ ll Consider Alternate OLF Sites; Navy: Site C Still No. 1

Snow geese by the thousands fly each day for six months of the year at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which would be threatened -- and pose a threat to Navy jets -- if the OLF is built at Site C.

RALEIGH (AP) — Navy Secretary Donald Winter has decided to seriously reconsider alternative sites for a proposed practice jet landing field in eastern North Carolina, a congressman said April 2.

Winter met with Reps. Walter Jones, a Republican, and G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat, amid overwhelming public opposition to the Navy’s preferred site for the so-called outlying landing field in Washington and Beaufort counties. Gov. Mike Easley and the majority of the state’s congressional delegation have told Winter they oppose the site because of its close proximity to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Navy Secretary is very much concerned about public opinion as he wants the Navy and the people of the state to have partnership,” Jones said.

A spokesman for Winter’s office did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Jones said the conversation marked a change in position for the Navy, which released a new environmental study in February that declared a preference for the site in Washington and Beaufort counties. Winter has decided to conduct a new, thorough and fair review of alternatives, Jones said.

“I believe that the Navy will seriously look at other sites and give a fair and equal evaluation of the sites that are involved,” Jones said.

The Navy believes the location in Washington and Beaufort counties best serves pilots based at Oceana Naval Air Station at Virginia Beach, Va., and Cherry Point in North Carolina.

The $230 million project would allow fighter jet pilots to practice aircraft carrier landings. Ted Brown, a spokesman for the Navy in Virginia, referred questions about the meeting to the secretary’s office.

The site in Washington and Beaufort counties remains the preferred location, but four other sites are also being considered, he said.

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