WASHINGTON - July 13 - Leading conservation groups joined forces to call on the Navy to seriously and vigorously re-examine five alternative sites in which it might build an outlying landing field (OLF) in North Carolina to support Super Hornet jet training. For three years the Navy has been trying to justify why it should construct an OLF in Washington County, where it would sit just miles from a national wildlife refuge that is the winter home to more than 100,000 swans, geese, and other large waterfowl. The conservation groups joined North Carolina farmers, local elected officials and military experts at an event in D.C. today showcasing the broad opposition to the OLF.
In September 2003, the Navy announced plans to construct the OLF in Washington County within 3.5 miles of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge proposing an estimated 31,650 practice aircraft landings and take-offs each year, approximately one every 15 minutes. In February of this year, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle issued a permanent injunction against building the landing field, citing a flawed analysis of the potential harm to wildlife. In May, the 4th Circuit refused to immediately lift the injunction, and the Navy has appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals which will hear arguments in the case July 20.
Quotes from leading conservation groups:
We are calling on the Navy to abandon its plans for an outlying landing field just steps from Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge where hundreds of thousands waterfowl home, stated Noah Matson, Director of Federal Lands at Defenders of Wildlife. The Navy needs to focus their efforts on a site that is more conducive to pilot training and safety and one that does not destroy the tremendous wildlife values of eastern North Carolina .
"With such broad local opposition in North Carolina to this project, the Navy should find a more appropriate place for the practice landing field," said Lisa Renstrom, Sierra Club President and North Carolina resident. "Selecting another site is a sound option across the board. It would be safer for the pilots, better for the farmers who would be displaced, and better for the 100,000 tundra swans and snow geese who winter in this special place."
As a former Air Force officer, I understand well the need for training, but politics, not national security needs, are driving the decision to build this landing field, said Chris Canfield, Director of Audubon North Carolina. A District Court ruling confirmed that. Why else would the Navy choose a location that presents, by its own measures, a severe hazard for collisions between planes and large birds for half the year? It is time to find a safe alternative for our pilots.
"The Navy is stubbornly clinging to a widely discredited plan," said Mike Daulton, Director of Conservation Policy for the National Audubon Society. "The local outcry against this site has been loud, consistent, and unanimous."
"The Navy should take heed of the adage, 'When you're in a hole, stop digging,'" said Sean McMahon, director of the National Wildlife Federation's national land stewardship campaigns. "The obvious solution is to find an alternative site that respects community values and the state's wildlife legacy while meeting the Navy's need to train the pilots who defend our country."