Arecent column I wrote about a North Carolina county's looming battle over the Navy's selection for an off-site landing field (OLF) drew some interesting comments. Most folks seemed to think the people of Camden County, N.C. should be patriots and accept the noise and inconvenience of having Navy F18 Super Hornets flying around during the night.
The term one letter to the editor contained was “patriotism, but not in my backyard.” I don't respond to most letters other than to thank the writer for reading our magazine. This particular letter I felt I had to respond to.
The gist of my response was: All the folks in Camden County, N.C., are as patriotic as any Americans. None of the folks I've talked to in Camden or Washington counties are opposed to the Navy building an offsite landing facility to simulate highly dangerous nighttime carrier landings.
The bottom line is the Navy wants to avoid noise problems associated with building a facility near their Oceana Naval Base near Virginia Beach, Va. The Virginia Beach community and the state of Virginia don't want to lose the revenue and tax base generated by the squadrons of Super Hornets that are based at Oceana.
The Navy and key political leaders in Virginia want it both ways — get rid of the noise, keep the revenue. Several sites in southern North Carolina and South Carolina have openly courted the Navy to build their OLF site there. Moving the OLF site too far from Oceana might lead to moving the F18s out of Oceana — that's the Catch 22.
Caught in the middle of the controversy is some of North Carolina's most productive farmland. Common sense should be enough to warrant not taking land out of production when worldwide the population — and their need for food — is growing and the land base used to produce this food is shrinking. North Carolina, in particular, loses more farmland per year than any state other than California.
Other than its proximity to Oceana, there seems to be no good reason for the Navy selecting the Hale's Lake site in Camden County, N.C. The site is adjacent to Blackwater, which trains security personnel, including Navy personnel. Some on the Camden County NOLF Committee contend there is collusion between Blackwater and the Navy. Their contentions, they say, are backed up by evidence being gathered for a possible law case reminiscent of the Washington County NOLF Committee, which was granted an injunction by a Federal Court to prevent the Navy from building the OLF in their county.
There is no lack of patriotism or support for the Navy, or disregard for the safety of F18 pilots by the folks in Washington or Camden County. If their site was the best site for the facility and one that helped bolster the security of the United States they would cowboy up and find a way to live with the noise and unwanted nuisance of the F18s.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist, much less Navy engineers, to figure out better places to build the OLF. Whether logical thinking engineers can counterbalance politicians with a tax-base agenda remains to be seen. It happened against big odds in Washington County.
At least one site study seems to indicate the Hales Lake, Camden County site is unsuited for the OLF. The report is the result of more than three months of research by Cary, N.C., environmental consulting firm Withers & Ravenel to examine soil make-up, condition, drainage, impacts on local wildlife and any other issues that would be raised by building an OLF in the area.
“This report confirms an OLF in Hale's Lake would pose serious risk to our citizen's safety and endanger our economic and environmental well-being,” commented Camden County Manager Randell Woodruff. “In addition, the added costs of building in such a remote area make it hard for anyone to see the logic of choosing Hale's Lake instead of alternate locations.”
Among other things, the report raised alarms about the depth and prevalence of unstable and highly-flammable peat in the area. Once ignited, peat can burn almost indefinitely, releasing high levels of carbon dioxide into the air for months or years at a time. Last summer's peat-fueled fires at North Carolina's Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge took more than a month to extinguish, at a cost of $5.4 million.
In addition to costs to the community to extinguish a potential fire, the report found the Hale's Lake site may cost the Navy substantially more to build than other sites. Peat soil excavation and replacement costs could add $10-$14 million to the overall construction tab. It will also be necessary to build a new network of roads for construction crews to even access the area.
Common sense, not questions about patriotism or support of our military, should be the determining factors in deciding where the Navy's OLF should be located. Taking the Hale's Lake land out of potato and grain production seems like a bad idea to me.