Dole Submits OLF Questions to Navy

Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., recently told the Navy she was "deeply concerned" about the OLF project in Eastern N.C.

PLYMOUTH — A day after hundreds of citizens attended a hearing regarding a proposed Navy landing field in eastern North Carolina and two days after Governor Mike Easley said he wasn’t getting much cooperation from the state’s two U.S. senators, N.C.’s senior senator told the Navy she was “deeply concerned” about the project.

For the last four years, Dole has said she was waiting on court decisions and “the process” to run its course. Sen. Richard Burr, R-Forsyth, said recently he didn’t think U.S. senators had the right to question where the Navy would put the landing field.

Last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., representatives from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the N.C. Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Audubon Society, Sierra Club and other conservation groups presented reasons for opposing the Navy’s preferred site for an OLF (outlying landing field) in Washington and Beaufort counties. The previous week, Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish&Wildlife Service, attended one of the OLF public hearings in eastern N.C. — after the Department of Agriculture had issued a “gag order” to FWS biologists at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge — and said his agency also opposed OLF “Site C” because of danger to Navy pilots and potential eradication of birds by the Navy. A week before that, Easley asked N.C.’s Congressional representatives to deny budgeted funds to the Navy to complete the project.

Local eastern N.C. residents would lose 33,000 acres to the Navy and 74 farm families would be forced off their homes if the Navy plan is approved. The Navy has said it would stop the planting of grains near Pocosin Lakes NWR that attract migratory tundra swans, snow geese and ducks, even to the point of using USDA poisons.

Comments April 4 by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., followed the last of a series of public hearings on the issue held in eastern North Carolina. Another hearing is scheduled April 17 in Charlotte.

Dole said in a letter to Navy Secretary Donald Winter that in recent weeks she had stressed the importance of the hearings “for the Navy to fully appreciate residents’ legitimate concerns.”

Local residents, politicians, environmentalists, hunters and others across the state and nation have expressed opposition to the proposed site in Washington and Beaufort Counties, citing issues such as a loss of farmland and the site’s proximity to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge — a home for migratory waterfowl.

Dole asked for written responses to 11 questions about the $230 million project.

She asked whether it was accurate for the Navy to compare the hazards of migratory birds at the North Carolina site in Beaufort and Washington counties to that of an airfield in Washington state, where a refuge is farther from the field.

She also asked the secretary to comment on plans to keep birds away from the outlying landing field, or OLF, that include possible use of poison to control migratory birds.

Dole also asked the Navy to explain why proposed sites in Carteret and Craven counties couldn’t be used instead of the preferred site.

Navy spokesman Ted Brown said he hadn’t seen Dole’s letter and couldn’t comment on it.

Dole’s letter came two days after Easley said he was enlisting help from senators outside North Carolina because he thought Dole and Burr weren’t working to help block the project. Easley said he had support from the state’s members of the U.S. House to block money for the 30,000-acre site.

At least two hearings on the proposal have attracted hundreds of people. Some 600 attended the Washington County hearing, although hundreds more were outside, and more than 800 attended the hearing in Perquimans County.

“We’re here to tell the Navy one more time they’re not going to get our property,” Beaufort County resident Ronnie Askew said during the April 4 hearing.

Plymouth Mayor Brian Roth, a former Navy flight officer who has helped lead opposition, said Dole’s letter showed opponents of the project continue to grow. Dole met with opponents last month in Washington and said she would question the Navy, Roth said.

“This is an extraordinary development and a very positive development,” Roth said.

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