This is the Internet Edition of the Winter 2003 AEA newsletterSoundings.
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Opposition to OLF
Residents Fear Jet Noise
AEA's Position on the OLF Issue
AEA: The Year in Review
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Opposition to OLF
UNITED WIDESPREAD UNYEALDING
On September 3rd Assistant Secretary of the Navy Hansford Johnson signed the Record of Decision to approve basing 120 Super Hornets at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach and 24 Super Hornets at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock with an Outlying Landing Field in Washington County
. The decision was recorded in the Federal Register on September 10th. The Navy intends to purchase 50 square miles of prime farmland and wildlife habitat.
With this decision the Navy has latched on to the tail of a tiger. Navy credibility has been stretched by half truths, doublespeak, incomplete data, and senseless averaging of statistics buried in murky text of bulky documents. Already out millions, the Navy could spend millions more defending this legal and public relations quagmire, as decades of good will erode.
Opponents Head for Court
Despite Navy warnings that citizens will face an airtight case and expensive litigation, two lawsuits are under way.
Beaufort and Washington Counties will retain a Charlotte law firm in their suit against the Department of Defense. Lawyers contend that the Navy has not properly complied with federal statutes, that research was shallow and inadequate and slanted to support pre-determined conclusions. Lawyers will work pro bono, with counties covering other expenses. An injunction to suspend Navy activity is expected.
Claiming "It is a bad decision based on a flawed environmental study," The National Audubon Society announced plans to pursue legal action against the Navy. Audubon took the issue to its national membership and is working closely with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Where They Stand
Apparently stung by an allotment of only 24 planes, when 48 had been envisioned, Governor Michael Easley wrote the Navy requesting that it reconsider its decision to place an OLF in Washington County. Adding insult to injury, Navy environmental studies indicate that NC's Cherry Point can train its two squadrons with already existing facilities, no additional construction needed.
Under the constitution, states have the right to reject federal installations they do not want. A decade ago, when the military proposed a warfare range in the northeast, former Governor Martin, responding to citizen objections, nixed the proposal, which then ground to a halt.
When Super Hornets arrived on the horizon, North Carolina, which had lost all Hornet squadrons to Virginia five years ago, courted the Navy. The scramble to keep NC installations off the list of base-closings and the lure of increased military spending seemed reason enough to sacrifice 50 square miles. Based on the Navy draft environmental statement, in 2002 the state wrote the Navy that an OLF in Washington County was consistent with coastal land use plans.
During the decision-making process, state legislators consistently maintained that this was a federal matter and out of their jurisdiction. The groundswell of opposition was fueled by concerned individuals. Grass roots groups organized trips to Raleigh and Washington, press conferences, prayer meetings, rallies, massive letter-writing, post card, and phone-in campaigns. Opposition statements from citizens in rural, sparsely populated communities now number in the tens of thousands.
US Representative Frank Ballance has been steadfast in his opposition, and for that we thank him
Senator John Edwards originally favored an OLF in Craven County. He remained aloof to constituents' requests to oppose an OLF in an attempt to avoid projecting an anti-military image. Reversing position, he will now vote against funding.
Senator Elizabeth Dole did not oppose an OLF if North Carolina won Super Hornets. A meeting she arranged between Assistant Secretary Johnson and Washington County officials turned out to be pointless because Johnson signed the Record of Decision that same day. Constitutents are requesting that she use her influence as a legislator to bar the OLF from Washington County.
Based on major changes to the Navy's original position, the state has written the Navy reversing its 2002 position that an OLF in Washington is consistent with land use plans. (1) Instead of acquiring easements, the Navy now plans to purchase 50 square miles of land outright. (2) Surge operations that would result in periods of concentrated training were not discussed in the Draft. (3) Aircraft other than Super Hornets would use the site, a point also omitted from the Draft.
Citizens and environmental groups are solidifying opposition to the OLF by meeting with commissioners in counties across the state to request support for Governor Easley's opposition to an OLF at any site unacceptable to the state.
In October 2000 the Navy declared to Virginia Beach officials that it is "precisely because of community concerns over jet noise" that an OLF is needed. The draft environmental statement reiterated this concern. With this decision to export noise, the Navy ignores a presidential order which discourages dumping pollutants on low income, minority communities.
Washington County ranks 91st out of 100 counties in North Carolina in per capita income. Annual median household income is $27,700, well below the North Carolina state median, while Virginia Beach household income exceeds the median for both North Carolina and Virginia. African Americans make up 49 percent of Washington's population.
The Navy received several comments critical of its position on this issue. Here is how the Navy responded: "Executive Order 12898 requires that disproportionately high and adverse impacts to minority and low-income populations be clearly identified and considered by Federal agencies as they propose and execute actions. The Navy did identify and consider environmental justice issues as required by Executive Order 12898."
The Navy's conclusion: "There may be disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and low-income populations." Although the Navy's conclusion would indicate that siting an OLF in a Tier One North Carolina county is clearly restricted by Executive Order 12898, the Navy has no intention of allowing environmental justice to interfere with its plans.
Wildlife and Environment
Since 1980 the Navy Safety Center has recorded about 20,000 bird strikes, resulting in two deaths, with a loss of 25 aircraft. This averages to almost three bird-related accidents every day and one plane lost every year. Monetary cost of these accidents runs into billions.
Does putting a practice field in the middle of winter habitat for a hundred thousand large birds who fly day and night, on unpredictable paths, whose flights number in the millions make sense? Apparently it does to the Navy.
The Navy describes the Pungo Unit of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge as an "inviolate waterfowl sanctuary." Yet diagrams of flight paths from this OLF on the doorstep of the refuge show that routine flyovers during practice can be expected.
The Navy says, "impacts to migratory waterfowl...would be minor. Surrounding land use is. . .considered compatible with aircraft operations."
The Department of Interior disagrees in a letter to the Navy: (1) The Navy underestimates impacts to waterfowl and wildlife. (2) The Navy should read research accumulated by US Fish and Wildlife Service over years of managing the refuge, instead of relying solely on its own limited data. (3) Management of land to encourage wildlife is not compatible with low-level flights. (4) Effects of noise on visitors to the refuge should be analyzed using actual flight noise, not 24-hour averages. The letter concludes by suggesting that a Carteret County site would be more environmentally sound.
Retired Air Force Colonel Jeffrey Short, an expert on bird-aircraft strike hazards (BASH) and Bird Avoidance Models (BAM), also disagrees in a letter to the Navy. "In 25 years of dealing with military BASH issues, I cannot recall a worse place to situate an airfield for jet training." Citing Navy liability for any fatalities, he writes, "Indeed, Navy Safety Center guidance admonishes aviators to avoid flying near wildlife refuges and known concentrations of waterfowl."
Navy consultant Ron Merritt is also an Air Force authority on BASH and BAM. He was hired by the Navy to study bird activity around the OLF site during the month of February 2003, and he also disagrees in a letter to the Navy. "The bird strike issue was minimized in the Final Environmental Impact Statement." The site can have a bird population of 250,000, he states, and his data show a bird strike rating of "severe" for 50 percent of the year.
Residents Fear Jet Noise
Residents north of the Sound are irritated by night-and-day noise from military aircraft. The Phelps Military Operating Area opened in August 2002 and noise from overflights has increased since then. The noise, which can shatter rural peace, has fueled concerns that noise along Super Hornet flight paths from Oceana to Washington will be even worse.
A staged flight by the Navy over the town of Edenton did little to alleviate concerns when people learned the solo plane was not a Super Hornet and, under normal training conditions, the jet fighter would be flying in a group, not singly.
Unfortunately, antagonistic statements by Navy personnel have done little to calm troubled waters and have reinforced the arrogance which has infused the siting decision.
AEA's Position on the OLF Issue
AEA has consistently maintained that a new OLF is unnecessary. It will disrupt a rural way of life, destroy fine wildlife habitat and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. This belief is re-inforced by data presented in Navy documents:
• The current training facility at Fentress Field in Chesapeake, Virginia, is underused. Data shows the airfield is operating at a 65 percent capacity, with 140,000 operations a year.
• A smaller air fleet is projected as older Tomcats and Hornets are phased out and fewer Super Hornets will replace them.
• Fentress is still surrounded by large tracts of undeveloped land. Steps should be taken to keep this land undeveloped.
• No additional construction is necessary at Cherry Point to handle training of the two squadrons proposed for that air base.
• Aircraft noise will increase considerably in Virginia Beach with or without an OLF in North Carolina. Aircraft noise will decrease only in Chesapeake, where population density is low.
• Building new military facilities while plans are made to close established facilities is a waste of resources.
•Existing surge capability demonstrated during the recent Iraqui deployment appears to be adequate.
•Future impacts of an OLF on the environment, when even noisier planes are developed, should be discussd.
Further, we feel there is a serious breach of justice when an affluent, predominantly white community can dump its unwanted noise on a poor, minority community under government auspices. Ironically, taxpayer dollars will be used by the Navy to defend against lawsuits filed and paid for by citizens/taxpayers.
AEA: The Year in Review
Opposition to an OLF in North Carolina was a major issue for AEA. Public education through newsletters and letters to the editor, together with advocacy through post card campaigns were primary activities. In spring we launched a second No OLF post card campaign, this one to the Secretary of the Navy in Washington DC. As with the first campaign, people eagerly signed on. With volunteers across the region contributing time and energy, we mailed off well over 2,000 cards with a cover letter signed by public officials and leaders in communities and cultural groups.
Still, we found time for our annual judging of environmental projects at Science Fairs in Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County schools. We viewed several hundred projects at six elementary schools, in addition to River Road and Elizabeth City Middle Schools. Over twenty students received awards, which were presented at our annual meeting in June.
During that meeting, teachers who received mini-grants from AEA discussed their results. Pam Hall from P.W. Moore Elementary School reported on "Sir Toad and Lady Bugs," a project to establish a wildlife habitat in the school's courtyard and study the life cycle of toads and ladybugs. This activity builds on previous funding by AEA for a butterfly garden. Susan Perry from River Road Middle School reported on the progress of their pond-building project. The pond, fully stocked with plants and fish, is a living environmental learning lab, teaching students about the critical balance of nature.
Melissa Anne Rountree, a graduate of Gates County High School, now attending North Carolina State University, was awarded a $500 scholarship. She plans to become a secondary school science teacher with a concentration in biology and environmental studies.
The mounted red-tailed hawk which AEA donated to Merchants Millpond State Park was also unveiled at the annual meeting. The hawk was found lifeless along a roadside and AEA funded the preparation of the bird for display. Our speaker this year was Merchants Millpond Park Ranger Jay Greenwood who entertained and educated us with a program that included live turtles.
Continuing with our five-year-old Gardening with Mother Nature program, we set up an educational exhibit at the Currituck Flower and Garden Show in April. We distributed AEA publications that promote environmentally sound gardening practices and advised homeowners on landscaping. To further educate gardeners and raise funds for scholarship awards we sponsored an Open House and Plant Sale at our environmentally friendly nursery where native and near-native plants are grown without pesticides.
This year's round of teacher mini-grants were awarded to Wanda Hathaway at Elizabeth City Middle School to purchase bird feeders and educational materials for a study on bird behavior and to Pam Hall at P.W. Moore Elementary to purchase all-weather benches that convert to desks for a courtyard classroom. This grant enhances previous projects funded by AEA to develop wildlife habitats in the school's courtyard.
United We Stand
Eloquent testimony to widespread concern over wildlife and pilot safety lies in the number of environmental groups that are working to oppose this OLF.
Thanks go to The National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Sierra Club, Ducks Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Partners, Roanoke River Basin Association, Roanoke River Partners, NC Wildlife Resources Group, Southern Environmental Law Center, Albemarle Community Network, NC Environmental Justice Network, and AEA.