Environmentalists have vociferously denounced the U.S. Navy's effort to build an outlying landing field near one of the state's most pristine wildlife preserves in Washington and Beaufort counties, forcing a court-ordered review of its impact.
But at a May 16 rally at the state Capitol, North Carolina NAACP president the Rev. William J. Barber II offered yet another reason it's a bad idea.
"This site would have a disproportionate high adverse effect on minorities and the low-income population, and yet we want to move forward," said Barber, who grew up in Washington County. "We're fighting the wrong fight. Our energies ought to be devoted toward what I call 'OLF'--opportunities, leverage and funding for Eastern North Carolina."
More than 200 people protested the Navy's plans to build airstrips on 33,000 acres of farmland for F-18 Super Hornet war jet pilots to practice more than 31,000 annual take-offs and landings in the midst of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Barber urged the crowd to build a coalition.
"Rural whites and rural African Americans better learn how to stick together," Barber said. "Poor whites and poor African Americans better learn how to stick together, because when you don't and the baby's in the dark that baby doesn't cry black and white. That baby cries pain. That baby cries hurt.
"And when those jets fly over they won't make white noise. It won't make black noise. It won't make poor noise."
A congressman and the leader of the N.C. Senate also shared their concerns about the proposal, including the site selection process and the impact of the landing field on the local economy.
"For the past two years we have argued that the Navy has failed to fulfill its obligation to engage in a clear, fair and objective process carried out in the light of day," said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-1st District). "Everyone but the Navy seems to get it."
The Navy's chief of operations admitted during a House appropriations subcommittee hearing that "the Navy's focus is to make the preferred site work rather than to consider other possibilities," said Butterfield, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
The Navy says take-offs and landings will occur around the clock, seven days a week. In addition to deafening supersonic noise, the jets would be at risk of hitting migratory birds, some weighing as much as 18 pounds.
"Here in North Carolina we have a long and proud history of supporting our Navy, and I certainly want to be a part of continuing that tradition," Butterfield said. "This is not about the Navy or the outlying landing field. The opposition has always been--always been--about the site, not the OLF itself. I agree with the Navy that an outlying landing field is necessary in order to train our aviators."
State Sen. Marc Basnight (D-Manteo) said he's concerned that the Navy's plans to purchase so much farmland would also hurt the region's tax base. Basnight said the OLF should be placed "in an area of less concern and less destruction."
Barber got some laughs when he noted that projects like the OLF, such as highways and landfills, never get built over golf courses.
"Often the poorest among us, not those with political and economic clout, are those who bear society's burdens," Barber said.