NC congressmen want Navy to check other OLF sites

Washington, D.C. — Six fellow North Carolina congressmen have joined Congressman G. K. Butterfield trying to ensure that Navy fully examines alternatives to the proposed outlying landing field site in Washington and Beaufort counties.

“Given the proximity to such a huge number of large birds at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, there are grave concerns about the safety of pilots, aircraft and the community,” Butterfield said. “I strongly believe a much more suitable site can be found.”

Congressman David Price, Brad Miller, Mel Watt, Bob Etheridge, Mike McIntyre, Heath Shuler joined Butterfield in signing a letter to House Appropriators asking that as part of the FY 2008 Military Construction Appropriations bill, the Secretary of the Navy would be directed to examine alternatives sites.

The Navy has already purchased and condemned more than 2,000 acres in Washington and Beaufort counties as part of a 30,000-acre outlying landing field (OLF) the Navy says it needs in order to train pilots to land on aircraft carriers. The proposed site lies just west of an area that was established specifically as a waterfowl sanctuary where thousands of birds winter annually. At peak, there are about 25,000 tundra swans and more than 65,000 snow geese which regularly fly out to feed in the farm fields just west of the site.

Butterfield said that the request was made in an effort to ensure that the Navy “finally engages in a process carried out in the full light of day.”

According to the delegation request, “We would also ask that no funding be made available for construction of the OLF at Site C until additional alternative sites are analyzed in a clear, full, fair and objective process. Further, we ask that the Secretary be required to analyze these alternatives and sites and report back to the Committee within 180 days of enactment on its findings.”

The letter, addressed to Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Chet Edwards, (D-Tex.) and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), goes on to say, “we are also committed to ensuring that our national security interests at stake are protected and we believe our Navy, our pilots and community will best be served by a full consideration of the alternatives.”

Butterfield said that he is hopeful that the legislative language will be included in the House appropriations bill, and he hopes that similar language could be included in the Senate version. Butterfield is also scheduled to join Congressman Walter Jones, Jr. for a meeting with Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter this week to discuss the OLF.