The Navy delayed its draft environmental impact study report for an outlying landing field in North Carolina or Virginia.
Opponents claim flawed research about the extent of wetlands at the proposed sites is a concern. They cite letters from the Army Corp of Engineers that reportedly point out the flaws.
At issue is a Clean Water Act permit, which the Navy must have build an OLF.
"The lack of an adequate analysis of wetlands present at the North Carolina sites poses a serious problem under both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA)," said environmental lawyer Glenn Dunn, a partner with Raleigh-based law firm Poyner Spruill representing Camden County. "If the Navy does not conduct a thorough analysis regarding the presence of wetlands, I don't see how the Corp of Engineers can issue a CWA permit and that would stop an OLF from being built."
The Navy is currently focused on five proposed sites. They include Camden-Currituck counties and Gates County in North Carolina and three additional sites in Virginia. Another list of six possible sites includes several northeastern North Carolina counties, including Bertie County.
Camden and Currituck counties have been fighting the OLF since early 2008. The Navy gave up plans for the OLF in Washington County in recent years in the face of fierce opposition there.
So what does the Navy have to say about the delay of the draft environmental impact statement?
Here's a statement:
"The environmental planning which would lead to a decision to establish an OLF has been a challenging process. Various delays have pushed the OLF timeline to the point that it will now coincide with the commencement of the EIS process for homebasing of the F-35C Navy Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). As NAS Oceana is the East Coast master jet base and the home for the F/A-18 C/D aircraft, the Navy will likely consider whether it should be identified as a potential candidate site for the JSF.
Including JSF data in the OLF EIS will ensure the Navy incorporates all relevant factors in the analysis in a fiscally responsible manner. The National Environmental Policy Act process will inform the Navy and provide the public access to all information necessary to understand and comment upon the potential environmental effects of the proposed action. The Navy has been exploring the development of an OLF since 2000 and will continue to work closely with the Congress, state and local officials, and the public to determine the best possible site. The Navy will continue to fully consider environmental impacts and remain transparent throughout the process."
In response to the latest news, Navy spokesman Ted Brown with the U.S. Fleet Forces Command told WITN, "As stated in last week's announcement about a delay in the release of the Draft EIS, the reason for the delay is the likelihood of including JSF data in the OLF study, if NAS Oceana is considered as a homebase for the Navy JSF. In relation to the issues raised by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Navy has been and will continue to consult with the Army Corps of Engineers throughout the NEPA process. The EIS will contain the necessary information and analysis to support wetlands permitting if required."