N.A.S. Cherry Point?

June 12, 2009 

The U.S. Navy is nothing if not determined to build a new practice landing field for carrier-based jet fighters within hailing distance of its Oceana air station in Virginia Beach. Rebuffed in its first attempt to site the field near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County, the Navy has come back with five alternatives, three in Virginia and two elsewhere in northeastern North Carolina.

Suffice it to say that not many residents in those locales are enthused. And when it comes to the Tar Heel sites, the admirals may not understand with whom they're messing.

That would be state Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight of Manteo, who has ways of getting his way, especially with matters important to his constituents. Now Basnight has challenged the Navy, saying in essence: If y'all really want an outlying landing field, then why not take yes for an answer.

That would entail giving North Carolina a bigger economic sweetener to make the bitter pill of the noisy and not very lucrative OLF (not lucrative because it wouldn't bring many jobs) go down easier. The way to do that, as Basnight and Rep. Bill Owens of Elizabeth City suggest, is to transfer Navy planes from Oceana to the Marine Corps air station at Cherry Point, which would welcome the additional business that comes with being a larger base of operations. If an OLF proved necessary, it could be built near Cherry Point, where many (although by no means all) would view it as part of the price of progress.

This is a reasonable approach that echoes the Navy's initial plan for the Washington County OLF site, which involved transferring two FA-18 squadrons to Cherry Point while leaving most of the planes at Oceana.

Clearly, the Navy has preferred to retain Oceana as the jets' main home base. Among other factors, this might have to do with the perceived comforts of Virginia Beach and environs, or it might have to do with the Navy's reluctance to share an air station with the Marines (or vice versa). But Marc Basnight can be counted upon to explain to the Pentagon, and Congress, why North Carolina should not be stuck with all that nighttime jet noise while missing out on the daytime economic benefits that a large-scale squadron relocation would bring.

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