Firm says Camden, N.C., ‘inferior’ to other possible OLF sites

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2008

CAMDEN COUNTY, N.C.—An engineering, planning and surveying firm says that Hale’s Lake, one of the two proposed sites in North Carolina for the Navy’s Outlying Landing Field, is “inferior” compared to other sites in southeast Virginia, and that it would be “more difficult” and “more expensive” to develop an OLF there.

The comments were contained in a report compiled for Camden County, N.C., by the Cary, N.C.-based firm of Withers & Ravenel Inc.

According to the report, the top layers of soil at the Hale’s Lake site – a 2,000-acre farm located about eight miles north of Elizabeth City, N.C. ­– is organic peat.

“Due to the high concentration of organic matter, peat soils are susceptible to fires,” the report said. “Peat fires are typically a smoldering type of fire that is difficult to extinguish. Then, even when it appears a peat fire has been extinguished, the fire can continue to burn and smolder in the subsurface until it springs to life in the open again.”

The report continued that, “large quantities of water are often required to saturate the ground in order to extinguish a peat fire. The Hale’s Lake site has been ditched and drained. During the summer, the shallow ditches that cross the fields have been observed to go dry and the deeper ditches that connect the ends of the shallow ditches have been observed to be the only local source of water storage. Without a considerable source of water to fight a peat fire, a large area of Hale’s Lake could burn before a peat fire could be identified and extinguished.”

During the summer of 2008, a forest fire reportedly occurred in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, located near Columbia, N.C. Some of the refuge area had peat soils, and because of this, “these fires burned uncontrolled for weeks,” the report said.

Four additional fires involving peat soils have occurred in the vicinity of the Hale’s Lake site, according to the report. Each fire destroyed between 100 and 500 acres, required three to six weeks to contain, and cost between $1 and $1.4 million to extinguish. One of the fires was on the immediately adjacent property owned by Blackwater USA, the report said.

The firm said the construction of an OLF at Hale’s Lake would require removal of the peat soils, and replacement with compacted natural soils. It estimated that between 1,250,000 and 2,600,000 cubic yards of peat soils would need to be removed, and that it would cost between $7 and $14 million to do the job.

Several issues with infrastructure were also raised. The firm said 15,000 feet of paved road would need to be built to deliver construction materials to the Hale’s Lake site. Bridges and roads in Camden and Currituck counties would also need to be evaluated to see if they could support the anticipated construction traffic.

“The haul distance to move equipment, materials and fuel to the site during construction will most likely be greater than the other proposed OLF sites which are closer to major highways,” the report said.

The Navy has identified five sites, two in North Carolina and three in Virginia, for the proposed OLF. The two North Carolina sites are Hale’s Lake and Sandbanks, which is mostly in Gates County, but part of Hertford County would also be affected.

The three Virginia sites are Cabin Point, Dory and Mason. The Cabin Point site is near the confluence of Surry, Prince George and Sussex counties, while the Dory and Mason sites straddle both Sussex and Southampton counties.