CURRITUCK — If the U.S. Navy decides to build a practice landing field for jets in Camden County, more than 70 percent of the 31,000 annual takeoffs and landings would take place at night, a Navy official told Currituck County officials Thursday.
In addition, the Navy would need at least 2,000 acres for the landing strip, homes would be disallowed in an 11,000-acre buffer zone, and the noise from jets roaring overhead would reverberate across 30,000 acres.
Those were just a few of the impacts the proposed outlying landing field, or OLF, would have on Camden and its neighbor, Currituck County, Navy Cmdr. Richard Catoire said.
Although Catoire was outlining the Navy's proposed OLF before the Currituck Board of Commissioners Thursday, it was apparent from his presentation that the brunt of the impact would be in Camden should one of two sites proposed there be chosen for the airfield.
"Currituck is in the very fringes of the noise impact areas ... . The site itself is not impacting Currituck County. (But the county is) in the noise contours" of the project, Catoire said.
Catoire is expected to meet with Camden officials on Monday to discuss the OLF project.
Last week, Navy officials unveiled six alternative sites for the OLF in North Carolina that were outlined by Navy officials to a state task force. Two of the new sites are in Camden, two are in Gates County and two are in southeastern North Carolina.
One site in Camden is in the Hale's Lake area, a farming community with tens of thousands of acres of open space and family farms. The other site the Navy is looking at is in the northeastern corner of Camden near the Currituck County border.
According to the Navy, noise from the jets would affect 120 homes and 360 residents at one Camden site and 549 homes and 1,647 residents at the other.
During his presentation Thursday, Catoire said if the Navy chose one of the Camden sites, some farmers could continue to operate within the 30,000-acre noise contour surrounding the landing strip. He also said farmers who desire to, could sell their homes to the Navy and continue to farm their land. The Navy would pay relocation costs, he said.
The Navy says it needs the OLF for pilots stationed at two bases — Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va. and Marine Air Station Cherry Point — to use practicing takeoffs and landings. An OLF is particularly good at simulating landings on carriers, particularly at night, Navy officials say.
However, an OLF in Camden wouldn't be operating all the time, Catoire said.
"We are not operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," he said.
Catoire said the Navy tries to complete its night-time flights early in the evening. He said the practice takeoffs and landings could occur four to six hours a day for five or six days a week. However, there also would be periods when there are no flights, he said.
Catoire indicated that the Navy wouldn't try to downplay the obvious: "When they (the jets) are flying overhead, they are loud," he said.
Only one Currituck commissioner appeared to express reservations about the project in Camden. Gene Gregory said he could sum up his concerns by reading an excerpt from a recent newspaper story that detailed Camden officials' concerns about the OLF.
"The airfield could bring unwanted jet noise, depress land values, and hurt the county's ability to recruit business and industry," Gregory said. "It also would remove valuable land from the county's tax base."
Other commissioners declined to criticize the project following the Navy's presentation.
Commissioner Owen Etheridge said the public needs to remember that no site has been selected for the OLF.
"Until we get a more definitive location, and look at those noise contours that they are talking about, I just think it's not appropriate for me to comment at this time about it," he said.
The Navy's preferred site for the OLF is in Washington and Beaufort counties. However, fierce opposition, led by North Carolina's congressional delegation, led the Navy to consider other sites. There are currently 22 potential sites for the OLF currently under consideration by the secretary of the Navy, Catoire said. That list includes the Washington-Beaufort site, he said.