The proposed Outlying Landing Field (OLF) for practice landings and takeoffs by carrier-based jets from Norfolk, Va., stirred strong opposition in both states, but none more than in North Carolina, where the Navy first attempted to obtain land for the field a decade ago.
"The Navy made the right decision," said Vance Aydlett Jr., chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners, "The Navy promised that it would not build an OLF in a community that did not want it, and today it followed through on the promise."
The Navy said it plans to delay consideration of an OLF in the two states until at least 2014 while it assesses locating new squadrons for its F-35C Joint Strike Fighter on the west coast.
After the announcement, celebrations were widespread in Beaufort and Washington counties, where the Navy had attempted a long campaign to force landowners to sell their family farms in order to create a 30,000-acre OLF adjacent to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the home of 67,000 migrating tundra swans and tens of thousands of snow geese, Canada geese and duck species.
Local opponents formed a 169-member coalition, North Carolinians Opposing the Outlying Landing Field (NO-OLF), that included landowners, elected municipal officers, private and state wildlife groups, dozens of state representatives and senators, plus mayors of every town in the region.
"North Carolinians Opposing the Outlying Landing Field are exceedingly pleased with the Navy's decision to suspend work for an Outlying Landing Field in North Carolina until 2014," said Doris Morris, NO-OLF communications director. "It has taken countless hours and years of dedication to see this day prevail.
"I'm forever thankful and applaud all of the grass roots coalitions who have worked so hard and our elected officials, including Rep. Tim Spear, Sen. Marc Basnight, Gov. Beverly Purdue, Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Kay Hagan for standing up for what is right."
Before the latest decision, the Navy was examining five sites for a landing field - two in Gates and Camden counties in North Carolina and three in Virginia. Local governments in Gates, Camden and adjoining Currituck counties also opposed the OLF.
Last September, Perdue and the state's top legislative leaders signed a letter sent to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, saying the Outlying Landing Field shouldn't be forced upon any community in the state. The letter said the state didn't oppose the landing-field idea "at an appropriate location in North Carolina."
"We are extremely pleased with the Navy's decision to halt evaluation of an OLF in North Carolina," said Tim Gestwicki, executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Federation. "It has been a long path to this decision, but we believe the Navy's decision ends the saga on placing an OLF in eastern North Carolina.
"Construction of an OLF would have harmed wildlife and sensitive habitats in this part of the state, as well as affecting people's lives, so this news is to be celebrated by wildlife enthusiasts, sportsman, local communities and elected officials and it's truly good news for wildlife and the citizens of North Carolina, North Carolina communities and American taxpayers.
"North Carolina should not have to sacrifice its wetlands, wildlife habitat and local culture for lack of long-range planning by the Navy at its current OLF sites in Virginia. We applaud the work by Gov. Purdue and Sens. Burr and Hagan for standing up for what is right for the wildlife and people of our state"
Morris said she hoped now a little peace could descend on the region, one of the most picturesque and environmentally-important areas of North Carolina, But she said her group still would remain diligent.
"May the families and individuals who lived in fear have many years of peace ahead," she said. "We encourage the people to have a wake-up call for tough policies to protect our homes and property, and we also urge you to continue to protect and preserve the future of our wildlife and nature.
"The tundra swan and the snow geese, along with migratory ducks and other waterfowl thank you for allowing them to fly and roam freely on the refuge and neighboring farm lands."