Another OLF deadline comes and goes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 20, 2007

FRANKLIN—The U.S. Navy will keep Southampton and other communities wondering a while longer about its preferred location for an auxiliary practice landing field for squadrons of fighter aircraft.

Navy officials announced in an e-mail late Thursday that they would ignore the Nov. 15 deadline they had set for a winnowing process that was intended to result in a short list of potential Virginia and North Carolina locations worthy of further study.

&uot;The Navy is committed to working with the citizens and officials of both states,&uot; Navy Office of Information representative Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said in her message. &uot;We appreciate their participation and patience as we take the time necessary to examine all of the facts and potential impacts associated in weighing all alternative solutions.&uot;

Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter is considering 22 potential sites for the new Outlying Landing Field that would supplement Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress as a place for Navy flyers to practice carrier landings.

Eleven of those sites are in Virginia, including four that are located wholly or in part in Southampton County. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine proposed the Virginia sites during the summer.

At the time, his representatives assured county officials in each of the potentially affected localities that the governor would ask the Navy to remove sites from contention if they asked him to do so. The Navy said then that it would honor such a request from the governor.

Since then, all of the affected Virginia and North Carolina counties have publicly opposed being considered for the airstrip. The Navy has not acknowledged removing any locations from consideration.

&uot;I’m not really surprised,&uot; Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson said Friday of the new delay. &uot;Obviously, we would very much like to receive notice that we’ve been removed from the list.&uot; But Johnson figures the Navy is going to work the problem on its own schedule.

&uot;I don’t think there is anything we can do until we know if we’re on the short list or not,&uot; he added.

The Navy declined on Thursday to commit to a new deadline.

&uot;There is no prescribed time frame for the navy’s decision on this matter, and we will make announcements when future decisions are made,&uot; Moore wrote in her statement.

Officials from the governor’s office are attempting to lower expectations that anything will happen soon.

&uot;We did learn last evening that it is highly unlikely that any announcement will be forthcoming tomorrow and that any decision may be delayed for quite some time,&uot; Robert P. Crouch Jr. wrote in a Wednesday e-mail to the administrators of the counties involved.

Crouch is the assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness and heads up the agency that was originally in charge of working with the Navy to identify potential Virginia locations for a touch-and-go airstrip for F/A-18 Super Hornets.

&uot;We will get back to you when we learn anything new, but thought it important that you be aware that there is unlikely to be anything announced in the near future,&uot; he wrote.

Governor Kaine’s counterpart in North Carolina has begun to lobby that state’s congressional delegation to ask the Navy to take into account citizens’ strong opposition to the OLFs and to &uot;develop alternative proposals.&uot;

Governor Mike Easley sent a letter to North Carolina’s members of Congress and to Navy Secretary Winter urging them to find another site for the proposed training facility.

Noting that the OLF Study Group he commissioned had heard overwhelming opposition in its public hearings on the issue, Easley wrote that citizens and public officials &uot;see an OLF as almost all burden and no benefit.&uot;

Moore, from the Navy’s Office of Information, wrote that the service would &uot;review and consider the information provided by North Carolina and Virginia, including the recent letter that Governor Easley sent to members of the North Carolina congressional delegation.&uot;