Landing field alternative offered

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSJune 1, 2009 

— Two legislators have written the state's congressional delegation to pitch an alternative they say would eliminate the need for the Navy's proposed landing field in Eastern North Carolina.

State Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Manteo, and state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, have asked North Carolina's congressional delegation to urge Navy officials to move some of the fighter squadrons based at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia to Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, The Daily Advance of Elizabeth City reported.

Basnight and Owens contend in their letter that if Navy officials still believe an outlying landing field is needed, it could be built in Cherry Point, "in an area of our state that wants it and receives the economic benefits as well."

The letter points out that building a landing field near Cherry Point would be allowed under a new North Carolina law approved by legislators and signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue last month. The law revokes consent for a landing field in any county without an existing military base with aircraft squadrons.

Schorr Johnson, a spokesman for Basnight, said Friday that Owens and the senator sent the letter to inform leaders of the overwhelming opposition in the state to the proposed landing field and to encourage them to remove the jets from Oceana if the Navy pushes ahead with its North Carolina sites.

"As federal representatives, they have the power of persuasion and [Basnight and Owens] want to encourage them to move those squadrons elsewhere," Johnson said.

Navy officials have claimed that a lack of training capacity at Oceana is one of the chief reasons for their plans to build another landing field. A Navy official recently told an audience in Wakefield, Va., that the Navy is having to send airplanes and aircrews based at Oceana to a Florida naval base for training because its current facility at Fentress Auxiliary Landing Field in Chesapeake can't accommodate all the flights needed to get pilots ready for carrier landings.

Oceana and Fentress have been encircled by suburban development. The Navy contends that it needs another strip to relieve the pressure on the two facilities.

The Navy abandoned plans to build the field in Washington County after opponents successfully sued the service for breaching the National Environmental Policy Act.

"North Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the nation and we intend to remain so," Basnight and Owens wrote. "It is our hope that we can work toward a solution that allows the Navy to meet its training needs and continues the proud tradition of cooperation between the military and our state."

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