Thursday, October 25, 2007

OLF Process Is Flawed

The public in Northeastern North Carolina is primarily Democrat and to a great extent liberal. As a result they believe passionately in public demonstrations to determine public policy. A very large portion of this public is antiwar also. Which means they are hostile to anything the military wants to do. This area also has a larger than normal percentage of environmentalists, the extreme kind. One example is we are home to the socialist group PETA, whose founder was sterilized, and who believes strongly that all humans should be sterilized because she considers mankind the scourge of our planet. Because there are so many parks in our area, due to the swampland nature of our region, it is easy for these extreme environmentalists to get excited about the idea of anything in our area that is not "natural".

The Navy has already lost round one when their plan to build the OLF they want in Washington County was stopped by large public protests. That victory has whetted the appetite of liberals in this area to hand the Navy a complete defeat. As a result some patriots are determined to support building an OLF just because these extreme liberals are active in the opposition to an OLF.

That is the background to a battle that has been going on for a few years. To understand this battle it is necessary to understand why the Navy needs an OLF.

One of the Navy's primary Air operations is at Oceana, in Virginia Beach near Norfolk. Using that field, and another training field nearby in Chesapeake called Fentress, the Navy conducts major training and preparation activities for the powerful Navy air capability that projects American power around the world from our awesome Aircraft Carriers. This power is critical to maintaining peace in the world and dissuading foreign powers from attacking us. Due to the growth of the area around these two fields, the Navy wants another airfield to back up Fentress as (the term they use) an OLF, or Outlying Landing Field. This allows for them to train pilots on aircraft carrier operations without the costs and dangers of actually landing on the expensive aircraft carriers.

The Navy have therefore started a process to buy land and build an OLF, and they do not want it near any city that is likely to grow on its own. In addition, they want it to be a minor facility that does not cause military driven population growth in the area that constrains their operations and creates public opposition to their activities, many of which occur at night and thus annoy some people greatly. Both Oceana and Fentress are subject to these problems. Making it a minor facility means they have no financial incentives to entice local government and local people to support the OLF.

The primary need is Oceana, but Oceana is near a state line. The only convenient area with low population is southwest from Oceana, and that is in our state, North Carolina, not Virginia where Oceana sits. Though North Carolina has a base at Cherry Point that also has operations that can use an OLF, there is strong evidence that the only real need for an OLF is to support the Virginia based operation at Oceana.

The Navy OLF process was started with a plan to buy land and build a new facility. The Navy seems insensitive to the idea that their goal is politically questionable in the modern age, where a great number of our population are actually hostile to the idea of having a military. It is also ultimately a problem with the courts having such a great say in environmentalism in an area so environmentally sensitive as Northeastern North Carolina. The Navy process has to deal with this complex and burdensome obstacle and they have developed specific court dictated steps to follow to assure they are ultimately successful. These steps are slow and cumbersome.

The inflexibility of the goal to build something new, the slow motion process as driven by environmental studies, and the interstate nature of the political problem, has created a process that is flawed. The Navy is by its nature secretive, and yet building this OLF is dependent on a political solution that demands the Navy be more open and flexible. The Navy process does not allow this.

For those of us who care about tax dollars, there is a related issue that is truly annoying. The campaign to reduce the number of military facilities has resulted in the closing of many facilities across our nation that we will need in future wars. In many cases the savings were trivial. However many facilities already exist that are paid for, and where the purchase of the land has already been accomplished, thus avoiding the battles for eminent domain. Some have become National Guard facilities and are still available for military use. For the Navy to be fighting to take people's land if there is an existing facility nearby, is intolerable.

There is a facility.
Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia. Governor Timothy Kaine (D) and Senator John Warner (R) from Virginia have offered this existing facility southwest of Petersburg, Fort Pickett, that is nearly perfect for the Navy's purpose. It is 120 miles from Oceana, which is 15 minutes for the jets that will use the facility. The facility is 45,000 acres which is nearly twice the land area the Navy wants to assure local growth near the OLF is discouraged. There are existing aerial bombing facilities and two paved landing strips. Other unpaved strips are on the facility, and could easily be paved to the exact requirements of the Navy, or completely new strips created.

That it is not perfect is not the point. A process that continues to grind on, alienating people already inclined against the military, and even frustrating those of us who support the Navy, is a flawed process when an existing facility exists. Any reasonable process must look at cost benefit. The millions being spent to try and force the construction of an OLF in North Carolina, when a nearby facility is being presented in a bipartisan offer by the State of Virginia, simply does not make sense. Take the offer, use Fort Pickett , and stop wasting our tax money.

This is not about the military and its needs. This is about bureaucracy and its inflexible nature insisting on finishing a process once started no matter how flawed the process.

Click on the title above or here to read about the State of North Carolina OLF Study Group hearings to provide input for the Governor to make his decision about the OLF.


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