- Protesters fought the Navy's Outlying Landing Field proposed for Washington County. It wasn't built.
- The area has a history of being friendly to the military, but this project has stirred opposition.
The Navy announced Thursday it will not pursue building a carrier landing strip, known as an outlying landing field or OLF on either of two sites in northeastern North Carolina until at least 2014.
Instead, the search for an OLF site will turn to the west coast where the Navy plans to locate air squadrons there first, according to a Navy spokesman.
The announcement comes after years of protest and concern from the citizens and policy makers in Camden, Currituck, Gates and Hertford counties, who feared the OLF would ruin the quality of life in their communities.
In 2005, a land-use study showed overcrowded conditions surrounding the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. The Navy said eastern North Carolina was a logical choice for OLF expansion. The field would have served as a practice landing strip for Super Hornet aircrafts and other jets.
“The Navy made the right decision,” said Vance Aydlett Jr. chair of Currituck County Board of Commissioners, in a statement released Thursday. “The Navy promised that it would not build an OLF in a community that did not want it and today it followed through on the promise.”
North Carolina legislators and leaders supported the grassroots organizers. Gov. Bev Purdue, former Gov. Mike Easley and senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan all have been outspoken opponents of the OLF.
“The people I meet with are absolutely outraged at the prospect of an OLF in their backyards, and I have been working to prevent it,” said Hagan in a statement released Thursday. “I will continue to make the case in Congress that the Navy must not build an OLF in Northeastern North Carolina.”
In 2009, Burr and Hagan tried to push through legislature in both the House and the Senate that would have prohibited building the OLF in two sites: one in Camden and Currituck counties, and one in Gates and Hertford counties.
Larry Johnson, president of the Concerned Citizens Against OLF in Camden and Currituck counties, was cautiously celebrating his group’s victory Thursday night.
“This is good news for now,” said Johnson, who lives in Camden County. Johnson’s main concerns with the OLF were a loss of farmland and the limiting effects of the potential airfield on economic and residential development.
“Basically it was a Virginia and Virginia Beach problem they were trying to push off on us,” said Johnson. “They were just trying to export the noise.”
Before the sites in Camden, Currituck, Gates and Hertford counties, the Navy looked at a 30,000 acre land swath between Washington and Beaufort Counties.
But the plans were immediately met with resistance by environmental, agricultural, and citizen watch groups who stuck “No OLF” signs in their yards and said the construction of the landing field would ruin farmland, waste taxpayer’s dollars and limit business development.
On websites, protesters used everything from water fowl displacement to wasteful military spending – many claiming the Navy had plenty of sites they chose not to use – to argue their point.
Laura Dickerson, who lives in Gates county, is the president of Citizens Against OLF.
“Today is a step in the right direction, but we’re still worried about 2014,” said Dickerson.