Will Navy ever stop being so good to us?

“Cap’n, I wish you’d stop being so good to me.” — Paul Newman, as “Cool Hand Luke,” to a prison warden.

When have we heard this before from the Navy? Now the service branch wants to claim 500 square miles of ocean off our central coast to test powerful underwater radar equipment. It says it has conducted an extensive draft environmental impact study that shows heavy-metal pings don’t harm ocean life.

Meanwhile, many scientists and environmentalists believe the Navy study is incomplete, long on promises and short on science. Four N.C. recreational fishing areas are inside the potential radar listening zone, and likely would be put off limits to anglers, plus endangered right whales (350 left in the world) use these waters.

And even though the Navy would use and perhaps harm N.C.’s natural resources, the state would get no economic benefits.

Does “OLF” ring a bell?

The N.C. site, which the Navy favors, would be approximately 54 miles southeast from Camp Lejeune in 120- to 900-foot-deep waters. The Navy said it’s also studying areas off Virginia Beach, Va., and Jacksonville, Fla., for an East Coast training range. It says it hopes to make a decision to go ahead this year and begin operations during 2008.

The Navy says it’s covered environmental concerns about the proposed shallow-water sonar range. Officials said the Navy has plans to review sonar-test impacts or modify increased ship traffic to and from the range. One idea includes onboard observers to watch for marine species zonked by radar tests.

The technical part is to extend an undersea cable from Norfolk, Va., with 300 listening devices bolted to the ocean floor. The Navy said it’s worried about detecting “diesel-electric” submarines used by potential enemies, including Iran, North Korea and China.

These are the WW II-type vessels not equal to U.S. nuclear subs, which for years used sophisticated listening devices to track Soviet nuclear and diesel subs across the nation’s oceans.

Opponents of the project say the Navy could get good “intelligence” about the effects of sonar on marine life by listening to sister federal agencies — which it doesn’t seem inclined to do, just as it hasn’t listened to “sister agencies” (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example) that told the Navy its jets practicing landings in Beaufort and Washington counties would destroy a major waterfowl wintering area, ruin local tax bases and be a danger to pilots.

Frank Tursi, the Cape Lookout coast-keeper, told the Wilmington Star-News: “They’re stating a lot of assumptions. They’re basically saying trust us.”

Here’s a couple of ideas:

1) If the Virginia Beach/Norfolk Naval Base wants to study sonar, do the tests in Virginia waters. If there’s no harm, why use taxpayer money to extend the cable off Morehead City?

2) Place listening posts near sub-launching facilities for Iran, North Korea and China and send information by satellite upload to our experts. Classify the distinctive sounds of each sub’s diesels and catalog them so the Navy can identify each country’s subs.

Just please stop being so good to us in North Carolina.

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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