Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No OLF at Pocosin Lakes

The Navy announced yesterday that it would drop plans to build an Outlying Landing Field near Pocosin Lakes NWR.

The Navy also announced that it is abandoning four other North Carolina sites previously under consideration in Craven, Bertie, Hyde and Perquimans counties. Instead, the Navy will consider two new sites in North Carolina -- Sandbanks in Gates County and Hales Lake in Camden/Currituck counties -- and three in Virginia - Cabin Point, Mason, and Dory.

Congress failed to provide money for the project in this fiscal year and taken steps to de-authorize funding for the project in the future. Previously, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Navy had violated federal environmental laws in planning for the OLF.

For five years the Navy has attempted to locate a landing field to practice jet take-offs and landings 3.5 miles from Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge hosts more than 100,000 snow geese and tundra swans, and other waterfowl each winter, which would be greatly affected by the Navy jets that would use the OLF to practice each day. In addition, the Navy’s OLF plans prohibited farmers from growing corn, wheat and soybeans – staples of the local farming economy – on 25,000 acres of farmland surrounding the proposed landing field....

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the National Audubon Society, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife and the law firm of Kennedy Covington, representing the community interests in the case, filed a lawsuit against the Navy in 2004, arguing that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act in planning for the OLF. This lawsuit resulted in rulings from a federal district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Navy had indeed violated national environmental laws in selecting the site for the OLF.
The project was vehemently opposed by environmental groups and local residents and never gained any support among North Carolina's federal legislators. Senators Dole and Burr both opposed the OLF site, as did Governor Easley.