Opinion: Daily Journal

Regarding the General, the Navy, and the Airstrip

RALEIGH — I’ve had a hard time trying to follow the outlying landing field controversy in Washington County. Every time I think folks are about to have a serious conversation about it, a conspiracy theory or something else inane gets injected into the mix. And you won’t believe the latest weird twist on the story.

The basic issue is a familiar one. Residents of this region of Northeastern North Carolina are upset about the prospect of the Navy siting a practice field there. They complain about the noise of the jets and the threat to wildlife. They complain that the only reason the Navy is looking southward from its Norfolk-area base into North Carolina for a practice field is because the more-populated Norfolk area is “exporting” its problems.

But no one ever wants to live near jet planes. Assuming that we agree the Navy needs a place to practice take-offs and landings, and that such a place needs to be remote and sparsely populated in order to simulate carrier landings in the dark, someone is going to have to be willing to live next to it. North Carolina officials, instead of play-acting about the imperious federal government and inventing spurious reasons to holding special legislative sessions, ought to be seeking some additional compensation for local residents and governments.

I don’t buy the argument that the local waterfowl are going to be endangered by the jets. I also don’t buy the argument that the jets are going to be endangered by the local waterfowl, given that I have a sneaking suspicion the Navy would be loath to jeopardize millions of dollars in high-tech machinery and the lives of their pilots without considering the potential safety hazards. It’s not a matter of trusting bureaucrats. I guess what I can’t get past is that I’ve met some of the OLF opponents making this argument, and I’d be willing to bet their expertise about military aviation is roughly equivalent to my own — that is, somewhat on the low end of the meter.

Then there’s this pesky issue of inconsistency. Some of the same state politicians who say that North Carolina should do whatever it takes — beg, grovel, crawl over broken glass, etc. — to protect the state’s military bases are now the same people trying to whip up opposition to the Navy’s OLF. Since one of the criteria in evaluating bases for closure is the perceived ability of the facility to continue its operations unhampered and even to expand them, it would seem unwise to pick this fight.

Still, I was willing to take this fight seriously and make a special effort to understand the opponents’ point of view. That is, until I discovered that former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Hugh Shelton has come out for consideration of alternatives to the Washington County OLF site. I’m not against such studies, mind you, but Shelton is proposing that the Global TransPark near Kinston be considered.

Well, at least it makes a little more sense that the idea of the GTP as a movie set, a terror-training facility, or a shipping center for Japanese-bound strawberries — all true-to-life proposals from GTP officials over the years. After all, the main requirements for an OLF is that it be remote, largely deserted, not of interest to any potential developers bringing people, commerce, and lights . . .

Wow. General Shelton would cap an impressive career of public service if he were to find some actual, practical use for the Global TransPark. I take it all back: I’m very interested in this story.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.