President Bush used a pocket veto to shelve the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a section that eliminates funding for the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field in Washington County.
Plymouth Mayor Brian Roth, during a brief interview Friday afternoon, said he learned of Bush’s intent to veto the legislation from several sources. Roth, who has helped lead the effort to stop the Navy from building an OLF in Washington County, said he doesn’t believe the removal of funding for the OLF site in Washington County is a factor is Bush’s decision to veto the bill.
Earlier this month, Congress approved the bill, including the provision to eliminate funding for the Navy’s proposed OLF in Washington County. Bush said he dislikes a provision that would expose the Iraqi government to expensive lawsuits seeking damages from the Saddam Hussein era.
In a statement, Bush said the legislation ‘‘would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a crucial juncture in that nation’s reconstruction efforts.’’
The president’s objections were focused on a provision deep within legislation that sets defense policy for the coming year and approves $696 billion in spending, including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also in the legislation were improved veterans benefits and tighter oversight of contractors and weapons programs.
The pocket veto means that troops will get a 3 percent raise Jan. 1 instead of the 3.5 percent authorized by the bill.
Roth said he called the offices of Rep. G.K. Butterfield and Sen. Elizabeth Dole on Friday to discuss the situation with the congressman and state’s senior senator, but those offices were closed. Roth said he wants to work with them and other members of the state’s congressional delegation to ensure that a revised bill includes a provision eliminating funding for an OLF site in Washington County.
“We will definitely be following up with them in the next week to two weeks,” Roth said Friday.
Roth said he’s confident a reworked bill that addresses Bush’s concerns with the freezing of Iraqi assets and keeps the provision eliminating funding for an OLF in Washington County will be forthcoming when the House and Senate convene next month. The Navy’s preferred site in Washington County is known as Site C.
“I will definitely contact our senators and congressmen and get their input on this and see what is going on,” said Doris Morris, communications director for North Carolinians Opposed to the Outlying Land Field, on Friday.
Morris said NO-OLF will continue to fight against an OLF at Site C and remain “on guard” until legislation that prevents an OLF from being built there is “finalized and signed” into law.
According to its wording, the bill, if signed by Bush, would have repealed “the authority for construction of an outlying landing field at Washington County, North Carolina.”
“The House has taken the Washington County site off the table because it posed a danger to the community, pilots and aircraft,” said Butterfield, who represents North Carolina’s First Congressional District, on the day the House approved the bill. “This is a clear message that if the Navy wants to move forward with an OLF it must have the support of the community.”
The White House is concerned about a provision — section 1083 — in the bill that would allow a freezing of Iraqi assets for lawsuits brought by Americans against Iraq over activities under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, which could tie up Iraqi assets needed for the country’s reconstruction, according to a report by Reuters.
“The new democratic government of Iraq, during this crucial period of reconstruction, cannot afford to have its funds entangled in such lawsuits in the United States,” Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said in a statement released Friday. “Once in place, the restrictions on Iraq’s funds that could result from the bill could take months to lift, and thus Section 1083 cannot become law even for a short period of time.”
The Navy has already purchased more than 2,000 acres in Washington and Beaufort counties as part of a 30,000-acre OLF the Navy says it needs to train pilots to land on aircraft carriers.
Site C is about five miles west of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, established specifically as a sanctuary for the thousands of migratory birds that winter there annually. The birds reach numbers of 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.
That site came under heavy fire from state and federal wildlife agencies because of its proximity to the refuge and the danger migrating birds pose to Navy pilots.
Recently the Navy has been working with North Carolina and Virginia to find an alternative site. Rear Adm. David Anderson in September unveiled a list of six alternative sites in North Carolina, four of which — two each in Gates and Camden counties — have since come under withering fire from local residents equaling local opposition to Site C. There are 22 possible sites in those two states. Navy Secretary Donald Winter is expected to pare that list soon.
Staff Writer Dan Parsons contributed to this report.