Date of this Version
In September 2003, U.S. Department of the Navy (the Navy) decided to homebase its carrier-based squadrons of Super Hornet aircraft at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, in Virginia, and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, in North Carolina. Prior to that decision, the Navy had determined that these squadrons would need an additional practice landing field, known as an outlying landing field (OLF), to support the number of Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) operations that are part of the pre-deployment training cycle. The FLCP operations are low-level, “touch-and-go” flight patterns to train pilots for landing on aircraft carriers. The Navy had to consider both operational and environmental criteria to determine where to build an OLF. Suitable locations should minimize transit time between the homebase and the OLF, yet avoid highly populated areas, development, existing military and civilian air traffic, and designated federal and state protected lands. The Navy identified five potential sites in rural areas of northeastern North Carolina that were suitably located between NAS Oceana and MCAS Cherry Point. The Navy’s preferred site, OLF Site C in Washington County, has a low population density, is 95% agricultural land, and is located 6 miles west of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Although this area of northeastern North Carolina is ideally located for the construction and operation of an OLF, this region also supports seasonably abundant populations of snow geese (Chen caerulescens) and tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus), which forage in the agricultural lands surrounding several NWRs. Although the waterfowl roost in open water within the refuge during the winter months, they leave their roosts during the day to forage on waste grain in harvested fields of corn and soybeans and on shoots of winter wheat in and around OLF Site C. As part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, the Navy had to evaluate (1) whether the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) risk at OLF Site C (and the other potential site alternatives) was manageable given the migratory waterfowl populations that overwinter at Pocosin Lakes NWR and (2) what potential environmental impacts would be associated with implementation of a BASH management plan that could manage that risk.