Re Navy Push for OLF in Washington County

August 18, 2003


At a time when reason and cool heads should prevail, we are dismayed at the Navy's latest defense of their decision to site an OLF in Washington County for Super Hornet training. Admiral Natter's campaign to sell the OLF to citizens who don't want to buy has been marked by arrogance, accusatory remarks and veiled threats.


The Admiral, who is Commander of the entire Atlantic Fleet, has told opponents that they have a responsibility to cooperate with the Navy. He has charged that opposition statements are full of distortions, errors and misrepresentations, and he has threatened protracted, expensive litigation if opponents choose to sue. In a Letter to the Editor on August 3, he called the editorial staff of The Charlotte Observer "stupid" because they wrote an editorial calling the idea of an OLF in Washington County "stupid." This Admiral who resorts to tit-for-tat name-calling will make the final recommendation to the Secretary of the Navy for basing Super Hornets.


It is perhaps telling that the Navy takes seriously complaints about noise from people in places like Virginia Beach, Virginia and Emerald Isle, North Carolina. As a matter of fact, an OLF was originally proposed by Admiral Natter precisely because of noise complaints in Virginia Beach.


But the Navy does not seem to hear objections to noise from people in Washington County. Coincidentally, Virginia Beach and Emerald Isle are affluent, white communities, while Washington County is a poor, rural, minority farming community. (Out of 100 counties in North Carolina, Washington ranks among the poorest ten.) It would appear that rich white communities have the right to complain, but a poor minority community had better suck it up and cooperate.


The Albemarle Environmental Association feels that there is a serious breach of environmental justice when an affluent, predominantly white community can dump its unwanted noise on a poor, minority community--under government auspices.

This is not a matter of patriotism or need. The training facility at Fentress in Chesapeake is currently under-used, and a smaller air fleet is projected as older planes are phased out. Considering reports of the brilliant performance by our air fleet in Iraq, residential lighting in the mostly undeveloped area around Fentress does not seem to have hampered pilot training. Note that residential lighting has only arisen as a reason for needing an OLF in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. There is no mention of this concern in the draft version of August 2002.


Nor was the issue of "surge readiness," or the ability to simultaneously deploy aircraft to several hot spots around the world, cited in the draft as a reason for building an OLF. Suddenly it has become an issue, though we seem to be doing quite well on this front, having subdued Afghanistan and Iraq and standing at the ready in Liberia.


We submit that these reasons have been manufactured to cast doubt on the patriotism of those who would oppose an OLF in Washington County. Opposition to an OLF in Washington County does not imply a lack of patriotism. This opposition is based on fairness and environmental justice.


The Board of Directors, Albemarle Environmental Association