Navy’s proposed landing
strip in North Carolina would endanger wildlife refuge
By John Byrne Barry
If the Navy gets its way, thundering F/A-18EF Super Hornet jets would conduct
touch-and-go landings more than 80 times a day just half a mile from the
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The intense noise from these jets,
of all Navy aircraft, will shatter North Carolina's Washington County and
endanger the winter home of over 250,000 migratory birds. But Ginny Kloepfer
volunteers with the Sierra Club Cypress Group are doing their best to see
that doesn’t happen.
The refuge is home to tundra swans, snow geese, and Canada geese, says Kloepfer,
group outings chair, each of which weigh between 8 and 20 pounds. The Air
Force lists this as an "extremely high-risk area" for plane/bird
encounters at least six months out of the year. The birds are big enough
enough that takeoffs and landings could jeapordize the pilots, the aircraft,
the birds, and the people who live in the area.
The proposed Outlying Landing Field (OLF) site is in a rural, low-income agricultural
area with a high minority population, and Kloepfer says that there would be few
benefits for the local residents, other than some low-paying maintenance positions.
The Navy’s plan to minimize potential collisions or accidents is to purchase
a 50-square-mile tract of prime agricultural land surrounding the practice field.
Here’s how they propose to keep birds out of this buffer area: reducing
food availability, destroying resting habitat, and using noisemakers to scare
birds away. Should the birds adapt to these adverse conditions, they will use "lethal
means" to keep them away. "The refuge and adjacent fallow grain fields
are the prime wintering habitat for over 70 percent of these birds in the Atllantic
Flyway," says Marilyn Lange, coordinator of the Albemarle Community Network,
a No-OLF coalition. "We anticipate the bird population will suffer a
significant reduction. But only if the field is built."
The Sierra Club is only one of many groups and individuals opposed to the landing
strip site. Others include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the North Carolina
Wildlife Commission, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, North Carolina
Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society.
Governor Mike Easley and Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C) have yet to take decisive
action in opposition to the Washington County site, possibly out of concern over
appearing unfriendly to the military. Senator John Edwards (D-N.C) and Congressman
Frank Ballance (D-N.C) are not in favor of the Washington County site, and have
called for Congressional hearings on the site selection. Even some military experts
have voiced concerns about aircraft safety. Retired Army General Henry Shelton,
the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that the Navy should
look for an alternate site. Two lawsuits have been filed against the Navy, one
jointly by Washington and Beaufort Counties, and the other jointly by the Audubon
Society, NC Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife. The five groups recently
filed a federal injunction to prevent the Navy from aquiring land and proceeding
with plans for the Washington County site.
(1) Urge Senator Dole, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
with close ties to the White House, to ask the Bush administration to revisit
Navy's decision and to work with North Carolina on a better plan. (2) If
you live in North Carolina, urge Governor Easley to reconsider a special
session and encourage him use thefull force of his office to push the Navy
to find a better alternative.
For more information, contact Ginny Kloepfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Marilyn Lange at email@example.com.
Or go to to www.albermarlecommunity.net or sierraclub-nc.org.
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