THE NAVY'S PROPOSAL FOR AN OUTLYING LANDING FIELD (OLF) IN EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
IN EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
A Comprehensive Overview of Issues
News Release / Letter to the Editor August 2003
Re Navy Push for OLF in Washington County
Winter 2003 SOUNDINGS newsletter
Spring 2003 SOUNDINGS newsletter
Following is our SOUNDINGS Fall 2002 newsletter
No OLFs In Northeast North Carolina
Where is the Justice?
Environment: BASH! BAM! What Will They Think of Next?
Aircraft Noise: Ear-SPLITTING
A Plea For Common Sense
Letter to the Navy Summarizing AEA's Position on the DEIS
Suggested Letter to the Navy / Public Officials
Comments About the DEIS Submitted to the Navy By AEA Members
Albemarle Community Network. No OLF news and updates.
North Carolinians Opposed to the Outlying Landing Field
AEA Home Page
NO OLFs in Northeast North Carolina
The story begins half a century ago when Naval Air Station Oceana and its nearby training field at Fentress were in the business of training and defense somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Back in the sixties, the A6 Intruder was the star performer, the F-14 Tomcat in the seventies, and the F-18 Hornets in the eighties. Each plane was bigger, better--and louder--than its predecessor.
As time passes, Virginia Beach is seen as a desirable place to live. People move here. Some of them actually settle near the air base. Public officials, delighted with growing prosperity, do not set reasonable limits on growth. Air gets fouled and water has to be imported from sources far to the west. Soon people begin to discover that it is getting awfully noisy living near a Navy air base. By the nineties, they are complaining to the Navy that its training flights are disrupting their lives.
Apparently the Navy ignores them, because they get so angry they form a group called Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise. They want air show practices and training moved to rural areas. This way, they can still enjoy the advantages of a Navy base but lose some of the problems.
In fact, they are so angry 2000 of them are suing the Navy for loss of property value associated with naval air practices in their community. The Navy embarrasses itself when it seeks Social Security numbers of litigants to identify the military and a judge in Washington DC tells the Navy, in no uncertain terms, No!
Enter the F-18E/F Super Hornets, a bigger, better--but even noisier--aircraft. Where to base them? For logistics and economy, the Navy wants to site all 162 aircraft at one base and phase out the older planes. Oceana and Fentress are reasonable choices, and, in fact they meet all requirements to support airfield operations of the Super Hornets, including touch and go training." But there are these other nagging issues -- like noise, air pollution, and quality of life--so the Navy looks for alternatives.
Following regulations set down by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Navy begins work on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) which will examine the consequences of six alternatives for basing the squadrons. Counties in northeastern North Carolina are stunned in January to learn that the area is being considered for an OLF, with 51,000 training flights (about 1,000 a week, or 200 a day) projected. About 13,500 flights a year--that's about 250 a week--will take place at night. The OLF becomes a symbol for noise, air pollution, loss of property values, loss of quality of life--and maybe the beginning of the end of our rural ways.
Now the game of Russian roulette begins. Which eastern Carolina county will it be: Bertie? Hyde? Perquimans? or Washington? None of them, say Commissioners of counties across the Albemarle. It's "One for all, All for one. We'll fight this thing together." The four counties, together with Chowan and Pasquotank, vote to contribute $25,000 each to hire professionals to guide them in the defense of their counties. This is a substantial sum for small counties who are scrambling to balance budgets after draconian cuts in state aid.
Early in August the hefty 1700-page document is released. It's a mind-numbing brew of acronyms and convoluted prose, but the Navy is clear about the alternatives it prefers: (1) Base six squadrons and a training squadron at Oceana, with four squadrons at the Cherry Point air station in Craven County, or (2) Base eight squadrons and a training squadron at Oceana, with two at Cherry Point. Preferred sites for the OLF: Washington or Craven Counties. But nothing is truly off the table yet. Public hearings are next, and the final decision is still to come.
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Where is the Justice?
There's a well known pattern of dropping dirty laundry on poor and minority communities. Executive Order 12898 requires government agencies to determine whether proposed projects will cause undue hardship to these communities.
The dirty laundry here is noise. For the record, studies on too much noise document higher blood pressure in children and adults; chronic insomnia; lowered resistance to disease; increase in stress-related diseases like ulcers, colitis, asthma, and headaches; greater risk of coronary-artery disease, heart failure and stroke; and impaired memory in routine tasks. The Navy counters most of these findings with an array of opposing studies.
The Navy wants to take the noise out of Virginia and send it down to what seems like a no-man's-land in northeast North Carolina. With the help of the US Census, let's compare Virginia Beach and Washington County.
Virginia Beach has a median household income of $44,714, with 9 percent of people below poverty level and 13 percent of children below poverty level. Black population is 20 percent; other minorities 14 percent; elderly 8 percent; high school graduates 48 percent; college graduates 14 percent.
Washington County has a median household income of $27,726, with 21 percent of people below poverty level and 29 percent of children below poverty level. Black population is 49 percent; other minorities 6 percent; elderly 15 percent; high school graduates 39 percent; college graduates 6 percent. Washington County ranks 91st out of 100 counties in North Carolina in per capita income.
Note that the percentages of high school and college graduates are higher in Virginia Beach. This could be because the Navy contributes to schools with children whose parents are base personnel. With only about fifty personnel assigned to the OLF, federal aid will have little impact on Washington County schools.
If the Navy compared Virginia Beach and Washington County, the actual locations in their proposal, the inequities become glaring. But they don't, because the law does not require it. Instead, the Navy compares people in a census tract in Washington County that will be affected by the OLF with people in a nearby tract that will not be affected. So, the inequities go away.
Numbers alone cannot tell the entire story. Given a population that is remarkably stable, people here can't or won't move away simply because life has suddenly gotten too noisy. Here is where they and their families belong, have belonged for decades. Where would they move to? And why should they have to choose between leaving or staying?
Some people may not have a choice. If the Navy wishes to purchase their property, it will. Of course, you will be paid fair market value and you may be able to lease it back. Remember, we are only talking about 2,000 acres now. The ultimate goal is control of 53,000 acres. If purchased by the Navy, the county gets no tax money from that acreage, a real hardship to any county here, specifically a loss of almost $700,000 annually for Washington County.
As an alternative, the Navy may purchase restrictive easements from a property owner. Easements allow a property owner to remain on his property and continue paying taxes to the county. It's a win-win situation, except that the property owner can never develop the property.
The Navy discusses the economic benefits of an OLF, but it does not discuss long-term economic losses. (Too speculative for the number crunchers in Washington DC.) Counties have worked hard to develop tourism as a way to preserve their rich natural and historical heritage, creating parks, organizing festivals, promoting hiking, boating and fishing. The Albemarle Environmental Association knows this firsthand because we have visited these sites, mapped them and described them in our web site to help promote ecotourism. This is the path that residents want to travel in the hope of creating prosperity. A noisy OLF is not part of the plan.
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BASH!!! BAM!!! Holy Cow, Batman
What Will They Think of Next?
We'll tell you what. They're thinking of putting an OLF only five miles from Lake Pungo in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. A place where over 100,000 waterfowl spend the winter and thousands of songbirds loaf during migration and nest in summer. What a setting for a bird strike!
Not to worry, Batman! BASH and BAM have the situation well in hand. The Navy's BASH (Bird/Animal Strike Hazard) plan will stop the varmints from gathering, nesting and feeding by thinning trees, removing brush, mowing grass and eliminating standing water. (Holy Cow! Batman, Are they going to drain the lake?)
But BASH won't work unless BAM gives a hand. BAM (Bird Avoidance Model) measures the risk of BASH by calculating the amount of bird mass in a square kilometer. Below forty ounces of mass risk is considered low. In terms of living, breathing birds, that's equal to about one and a half snow geese or half a tundra swan every square mile. Above 100,000 ounces risk considered severe. That calculates to over 1200 geese or 400 swans a square mile. Last winter, over 60,000 tundra swans and snow geese visited. (Holy cow, Batman, a Gotham City of birds!)
It so happens that the Pungo Unit of the refuge was established specifically as an inviolate waterfowl sanctuary. Tundra swans and snow geese like it here, and both species are large enough to bring an airplane down, especially if they're startled by aircraft noise and flush unexpectedly. Still, on an average daily basis, the BASH/BAM risk is rated only moderate by the Navy. Is there a Joker in our midst?
In all seriousness, do we create wildlife refuges that give sanctuary to black bear, red wolf, bald eagle, and probably the black panther only to have the military reduce wildlife to acronyms and ounces in order to figure out how to modify the sanctuary to get rid of the animals? Then discover afterwards, "Oops, sorry we made a mistake. Let's do a study."
Fire in pocosins are another concern. The volatile combination of peaty soils and leather-leaved plants growing in impenetrable thickets create "one of the most hazardous areas for destructive wildfires in the eastern United States," according to US Fish and Wildlife Service in a 1990 report. In 1985, a major wildfire lasted for weeks and cast palls of smoke and ash over eastern North Carolina. When the smoke cleared, 95,000 acres had been burned, including peat to a depth of three feet in some areas.
Naturally occurring fires are to be expected in pocosin wetlands. They help regenerate life, but should we invite them by introducing a manmade potential for fire from accidents that may occur when pilots in training are flying at high speeds?
Fresh air. Eastern North Carolina enjoys some of the best there is. Little is here that pumps bad smells, bad gases, bad particles into the air. Hampton Roads, on the other hand, is the only region in Virginia that has ozone problems. Is this partly because Virginia cut Oceana some slack on its emissions of ozone-causing pollutants--allowing Oceana to increase its emissions of pollutants annually until 2010. Have public officials and the military ever thought about reducing ozone-causing pollutants by sensible planning and management?
With a fuel capacity of 14,400 pounds and a range of 1300 miles in combat, a Super Hornet can burn about ten pounds of fuel for every mile flown. Every bit of fuel that goes through an aircraft engine emerges as exhaust. Not all of the exhaust is pollutants of concern, but many are. At 51,000 flights a year an OLF in North Carolina will pump 158 tons of pollutants into the air we breathe. This may not sound like a lot to the military, but it's a lot to us. Why should an area with clean air suffer dirty air from those who want the economic benefits but not the sludge?
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The Question: How loud is the Super Hornet? Despite pages of charts and volumes of prose, finding the answer is like navigating a maze in a cornfield. Given the Navy's consistent and excellent performance in the defense of our country, their fuzzy discussions and lack of clarity are disturbing.
When neighbors can't talk over a back fence, or a family's sleep is shattered, or windows rattle, we need a down-to-earth discussion of the problem. Nighttime flights and touch-and-go training, the very activities that take place on an OLF, are the most upsetting noises to people and provoke the most complaints to the Navy.
For as long as there have been textbooks on physics, noise has been measured using a scale of decibels (dB). Crickets singing on a summer evening produce a noise level of about 40 dB. A high-speed jet flying overhead at low altitudes can produce as much as 120 dB. Doesn't sound like much of a difference on the scale, does it? But decibels are measured in powers of ten. Every time a noise is doubled, there's only an increase of 3 decibels. (Add 60 dB and 60 dB and you get only 63dB). So the noise of the jet is actually about a hundred million times louder than the singing of crickets.
Background noise in rural communities is about 30 to 40dB, in cities about 60 to 80dB. Ordinary conversation creates about 50 to 60dB. People get annoyed when noise gets to about 75 to 80 dB. And you can experience pain and possible damage at 120dB, though the Navy pushes this number back to 130 to 140dB.
Now for the Answer: Super Hornets flying at an altitude of 1000 feet generate 113 dB. At 600 feet they generate 117dB. Note that the noise is more than doubled as altitude is decreased.
But the Navy doesn't want us to fret over these dB levels. The Navy has it worked out so they won't bother us. Instead of plain old dBs, the Navy uses DNL dB, or Day Night Average Sound Levels, which it defines as "the continuous A-weighted sound level that would be present if all the variations in sound levels that occur over a 24-hour period were smoothed out so as to contain the same total sound energy."
Got that? In case you didn't, it means that quiet times are blended with noisy times to make the noisy times seem not so noisy. In terms of an OLF, it means that noisy nights of flying are acceptable if there is some quiet time during the day to "smooth out" the noise level.
The Navy uses lots of paper and ink to define and defend DNLs. They draw noise contours around the airfield to show us that at three miles away from the 2,000-acre OLF, the noise level will only be 60DNL dB, about the level of ordinary conversation. How nice.
Trouble is, DNL dBs do not exist in real life. They are imaginary numbers. They do not tell us what the loudest event is in a 24-hour period. Our ears do not average noise over 24-hour periods. We hear and react to what we hear when we hear it. But don't try to criticize the Navy for using this measurement scheme. The Navy will tell you that you don't understand the concept.
True enough. We don't think the mother who was observed hovering over her children and trying to cover their ears to protect them from the earsplitting noise of a jet plane flying somewhere near a shopping center in Virginia Beach understands the concept of DNL either. And we don't think people in eastern North Carolina, where the loudest sounds at night are crickets singing in the grass will ever understand the concept of DNL.
By the way, do you want to know how loud the noise will be three miles from the airstrip during flight times? About 90 dB, a thousand times louder than 60DNL dB.
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A Plea for Common Sense
What, exactly, is the justification for a new OLF? According to the Navy, Super Hornets will make more noise, so much more noise that even with a new OLF, 10,000 more people near Oceana will find they can't sleep at night. But, on the other hand, the Navy says that even though Super Hornets are slightly louder, the increase in noise would not be perceptible to most people. Which is it, fellas?
Or is it a matter of degree? An OLF in Washington County would mean only 723 people would suffer sleepless nights. The fewer people bothered, the fewer the complaints. But if few people in Virginia will perceive the louder noise anyway, then why are we playing poker with our quality of life? Why not leave things as they are? Forget about a new OLF.
With Super Hornets in place, fewer aircraft will be operating at Oceana and Fentress. Space and facilities will be more than adequate. OLFs already exist around Cherry Point. Surely, with some juggling of resources, accommodations could be made to train pilots at these bases. Forget about a new OLF.
In these days of deficit spending, some common sense and an eye toward savings is needed. Military installations across the country are being closed to save money, yet the military wants to build more. We understand the need for a well trained military, but why not use the facilities that already exist?
The military has long coveted northeastern North Carolina. Fifteen years ago a Mid-Atlantic Electronic Warfare Range was proposed here, but determined protests eliminated us from consideration. South of Albemarle Sound we already host the Dare bombing range and the Phelps Military Operating Area (MOA). The Mattamuskeet MOA is proposed over much of Hyde County, spilling into Washington County, to be stacked over the proposed OLF.
Today it's only 2,000 acres for an OLF. In time, when the Navy controls another 51,000 acres and modifies the land. . .Who knows? Come on, folks, can the military really control 53,000 acres and resist the temptation to expand their operations? So, let's not get started. We propose NO NEW OLF.
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Schedule of Public Hearings
Public Hearings will be held on the DEIS. You should attend one of them. You don't have to speak. Your presence alone indicates your vote. Hearings will be held from 7:00 to 9:30 pm. There will be an Open Information Session from 4:30 to 6:30 pm prior to each hearing.
Monday, August 26: NC Aquarium and Marine Center, Manteo
Tuesday, August 27: Mattamuskeet Elementary School, Swan Quarter
Wednesday, August 28: Bertie High School, US 13 North, Windsor
Thursday, August 29 Vernon G. James Center, Off US 64, Plymouth
Tuesday, September 3: Perquimans County High School, Hertford
If you cannot attend a hearing, send brief comments by October 2nd to: Commander, Atlantic Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, ATTN: Mr. Fred Pierson (Code BD32FP), 1510 Gilbert Street, Norfolk VA 23511-2699. (Fax: 757-322-4894)
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News Release August 16, 2002
AEA LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN AGAINST OLFS IN NORTHEAST NORTH CAROLINA
With the signing of 100 postcards by angry residents from seven counties at the August 13 Perquimans No OLF meeting, the Albemarle Environmental Association launched a write-in campaign against the practice training field proposed by the Navy for northeast North Carolina.
The postcard signing coincides with the publication of AEA's newsletter, SOUNDINGS, which discusses the Navy's Draft Environmental Impact Statement in detail. The newsletter, which is being distributed across the Albemarle, is also posted on the group's web site, http://members.inteliport.net/~aea/index.htm.
"No community in the Albemarle wants this OLF," said Jim Davis, President of the 15-year-old grass roots group. "The Navy's proposals are galvanizing more and more residents to defend the tranquil, rural quality of life we hold dear."
Members of AEA are urging people to send comments to the Navy. Pre-printed postcards are available to individuals and groups free of charge by calling 336-4778 or 426-9563. Volunteer representatives in each county will handle distribution and tallies of cards.
AEA also stresses the importance of large numbers attending public hearings on the issue. Hearings will be held August 26 at NC Aquarium in Manteo; August 27 at Mattamuskeet Elementary in Swan Quarter; August 28 at Bertie High School in Windsor; August 29 at the Vernon James Center in Plymouth; Tuesday, September 3 at Perquimans High School in Hertford.
Citing the group's previous opposition to plans to put a hazardous waste incinerator and a Virginia landfill in the Albemarle area, Mr. Davis added, "Outsiders seem to consider northeast North Carolina a dumping ground for their garbage -- in this case, the garbage is noise. We can't let that happen."
"Putting an OLF anywhere in the area will affect every one of us with noisy aircraft, a decline in wildlife, lowered property values and a loss of tourism. We all have to work to prevent an OLF here, even if it's not going to be next door to you," said Carolyn Hess, Vice President.
If you wish to use your own postcard or stationery here is the information we suggest you include.
You can add your own comments if you wish.
COMMANDER, ATLANTIC DIVISION
Naval Facilities Engineering Command
ATTN: Mr. Fred Pierson (Code BD32FP)
1510 Gilbert Street
Norfolk, Virginia 23511-2699
NO-OLF * NO-OLF * NO-OLF
I am a current resident of _______________________ County
and I am against the decision to locate an Outlying Landing
Field (OLF) in Northeastern North Carolina. Please make use
of current available landing fields and facilities.
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Background and Suggestions for Letter Writing Campaign to the Navy
Here are some ideas for writing a letter to the Navy about the Outlying Landing Field, or OLF, that is being proposed in eastern North Carolina for training pilots for the touch and goes they will do on aircraft carriers with the new Super Hornet, FA18E/F. This plane is four times louder than the FA 18C/D Hornet currently in the fleet. Further, 51,000 operations a year will take place, with 13,500,or 26 per cent at night.
The Navy is introducing these planes into its Atlantic fleet and has produced a Draft Environmental Impact Statement discussing options on basing and training. Five NC counties are targeted for the OLF, which has a huge noise footprint of 38,000 acres, or about 60 square miles surrounding the relatively small 2,000-acre air strip.
Current training of fighter/attack planes takes place in Virginia Beach at Naval Air Station Oceana and in Chesapeake at Fentress Air Field. Residents in these southeastern Virginia communities are complaining about noise, so the Navy is proposing to move the training (the OLF) to rural areas in North Carolina. Virginians and the Navy want the basing of most of the squadrons to be at Oceana. Basing of planes brings millions of dollars into the economy. Training brings no money and lots of noise.
Folks in Virginia are actively campaigning to get rid of the noise, and support the idea of dumping the noise on their North Carolina neighbors. Lest you feel sorry for Virginia Beach residents, remember that the base and training field have been there since the 1940's but development around the base has occurred only in the past 20 years or so. In fact, some of the most upscale neighborhoods are within the flight path of the jets.
So the Navy is proposing to build an OLF in a poor, rural county in eastern North Carolina. The sacrificial lambs are family farms, churches, schools and homes of mostly old, poor or minority people whose lives would be affected beyond measure. Speaker after speaker got up at public hearings in North Carolina to state that they may not have a lot of money or be well educated, but they were rich in their heritage, their values, their families, their love of the life they have here, some with tears about losing what they had worked so hard for. Clearly, this is a case of the rich dumping on the poor.
Unfortunately, the issue has already frozen real estate sales, discouraged retirees from moving in (who have been the biggest boost to the economy), and depressed new business enterprise in the entire northeast area of North Carolina, since nobody knows which county will host the OLF and won't know until mid-2003.
The Navy does not make a case for building the OLF. Here is the key sentence in their document: "Existing facilities at NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress were found to meet all the operational requirements to support the FCLP operations of the Super Hornet squadrons." But, the Navy continues, "an OLF is needed to enhance quality of life and provide mitigation of noise and population encroachment." Whose quality of life? Why did city planners allow development in the shadow of an airfield? Why did people buy houses in high noise/accident potential areas?
A groundswell of opposition has developed here. Now, we would like to put pressure on the Navy and other public officials through faxes and letters. Send letters to the Navy by October 2. Fax to 757-322-4894. Send letters to public officials through next spring - several if you can. Phone calls are also effective. Keep a copy of your letter, as you may wish to use it later in the campaign. Here is a sample letter. Feel free to use it as is or embellish. Thanks to everyone for helping.
Commander, Atlantic Division
Naval Facilities Engineering Command
ATTN: Mr. Fred Pierson (Code BD32FP)
1310 Gilbert Street
Norfolk VA 23511
I/we are opposed to the construction of an OLF in eastern North Carolina. In the Draft Environmental Impact Statement the Navy states that it does not need this facility to carry out its operations.
I/we also understand that the siting of this OLF is proposed for poor counties in North Carolina, where median income is well below today's standards, in order to relieve the noise from jet aircraft training that now takes place in the relatively affluent community of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
This is a clear case of environmental injustice and a waste of taxpayer dollars. I/we are disappointed that the Navy would consider such a proposal. I/we urge the Navy to use existing military facilities for its training. (To a Public Official: I/we urge you to use your influence to prevent an OLF from being constructed in eastern North Carolina.)
Here is a suggested outline for a more personal letter:
1. State your ties to eastern North Carolina, and what you like about it e.g., own property, visit family, vacation here, thinking of retiring here, etc. You love the peace and quiet, the wildlife, the lack of congestion, etc.
2. Explain how you heard about the Navy proposal: friend, relative, news media, etc.
3. You object to the OLF because the noise of jet aircraft will destroy peace and quiet and should not be dumped from the affluent to the poor. Also, it is not needed and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. If you have personal experience with aircraft noise, include this.
4. Urge the Navy to reconsider its plans, and eliminate North Carolina from consideration. Urge public officials to use their influence to prevent construction of an OLF in eastern North Carolina. It is most important to request that the Navy use existing military facilities.
Addresses and Telephone Numbers
Senator John Edwards North Carolina Office: 252-931-1111
401 West First Street Washington DC Office: 202-224-3154
Greenville, NC 27401
Senator Jesse Helms North Carolina Office: 919-856-4630
310 New Bern Avenue Washington DC Office: 202-224-6342
Raleigh NC 27601
Representative Eva M. Clayton North Carolina Office: 252-758-8800; 800-274-8672
400 Martin Luther King Drive Washington DC Office: 202-225-3101
Greenville NC 27834
Representative Walter B. Jones North Carolina Office: 919-331-1003; 800-351-1697
1105 -C Corporate Drive Washington DC Office: 202-225-3415
Greenville, NC 27858
Addresses and Phone Numbers of State Public Officials
Governor Michael Easley
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
Annette Hargett, Director
Eastern Governor's Office
211 O'Marks Building
New Bern, NC 28560
Senator Marc Basnight
Representative Bill Owens
Representative William Culpepper
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