OLF NEWS OF THE DAY
The state school superintendent is the latest Council of State member to criticize the U.S. Navy’s study of the Hale’s Lake area for an outlying landing field, saying the OLF would disrupt student learning and harm several school districts in the region.
“There are approximately 10 schools located less than three miles from the proposed site in Camden,” N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said in a prepared statement obtained by The Daily Advance. “The impact on these children and costs to soundproof the buildings will be severe. In addition, the loss of tax base will be crippling.”
Atkinson joins Steve Troxler, North Carolina’s agriculture commissioner, who criticized the OLF study during a visit to Camden County last May. Troxler said local counties could pay a high price in lost farmland and farm income if the Hale’s Lake site was chosen for the OLF.
Atkinson reportedly expressed similar sentiments about an OLF’s effect on schools when she met earlier this week with several opponents of a Camden OLF. She is scheduled to discuss her views on the OLF later this month during a visit to area schools that airfield opponents say would be adversely affected by the OLF.
John Morrison, county attorney for Camden, met with Atkinson in her Raleigh office on Tuesday. Joining him for the meeting was Tom West, an attorney with Poyner Spruill, the law firm Camden and Currituck counties have hired to develop legal strategies for blocking a Navy OLF in Camden.
“It went very, very well,” Morrison said of the sit-down with Atkinson. “I had requested this meeting for some time. She was very supportive of Camden, Currituck and Pasquotank and resolved to fight the OLF. Her perspective comes from the damage it could do to school systems and our children.”
Morrison said he asked for the meeting to make certain that Atkinson was familiar with the issues and understood the gravity of the problem from Camden’s perspective.
“We took documents to review, some studies that were done, and she was familiar with quite a bit,” he said. “She was convinced (that the OLF) would have an adverse impact on our children and the ability to educate them.”
Morrison said Atkinson agrees that Camden County’s ability to pay for new schools and school improvements would be adversely affected by an OLF.
“It’s not just the noise, but the diminution of property values, in Camden’s case the taking of 30,000 acres off the tax rolls,” he said. “Federally owned property is not subject to county taxes. If the Navy takes it, that cash flow to the county would cease, which makes it difficult to support the schools.”
According to Atkinson, the OLF would affect 10 schools in the region with noise from jet fly-overs. The F/A-18 Super Hornet, one of the noisiest jets in the Navy’s arsenal, would be one of those using the OLF for practice landings and take-offs.
“It’s pretty obvious the devastating effect this would have on these counties,” Morrison said. “The message the superintendent will have is that the ability to educate yourself is part of national defense.”
Ted Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, the Navy agency in charge of the OLF project, said no schools in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools district are in the OLF’s flight path. In addition, no schools are in what the Navy considers the “noise zone” for the airfield.
“The noise contours (for the OLF project) have the schools outside the 65 decibel day/night average,” he said.
Brown also pointed out that the bulk of the flights at the proposed OLF would be done at night — well after school hours.
Morrison said that even though Navy officials say the jets won’t take-off and land at an OLF during the day, experience shows otherwise. Morrison said millions were spent in Virginia Beach soundproofing schools because of jet noise, to little effect.
“Where are Camden and Currituck going to get that money?” he asked.
But Brown suggested noise levels at schools near the OLF would be much less than in Virginia Beach, where Naval Air Station Oceana is located.
“People point out that Virginia Beach schools have soundproofing, but they are also close to the master jet base at Oceana,” he said. “The (NAS Oceana) area has a higher noise zone than any of the five possible OLF locations we’ve studied. A lot of the (flight operations) we have at Oceana are in the daytime.”