Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, second from left, speaks with Rep. Alice Underhill, left, Rep. William Wainwright and Sen. Jean Preston during a meeting of Allies for Cherry Point's Tomorrow held Friday at the Havelock campus of Craven Community College . (Mark Hibbs photo)
HAVELOCK - In the midst of a challenge from Virginia for the location of a Navy landing field originally planned for Eastern North Carolina , officials here are concerned that a more concerted effort is needed to ensure Cherry Point gets the expected jet squadrons that would use the practice field and their associated economic benefits for the region.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue told members of a Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station advocacy group Friday that the state is working aggressively to identify an appropriate alternate site for the Navy's proposed outlying landing field (OLF) in Eastern North Carolina , but she stopped short of identifying any potential locations.
But local officials on the executive board of Allies for Cherry Point's Tomorrow (ACT) said they want assurances that the governor's office and the General Assembly support an OLF site in this part of the state.
And ACT President and Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders leveled criticism at Carteret County for its lack of financial support at the organization's meeting held at Craven Community College 's Havelock campus.
Opposition to the Navy's preferred OLF site in Washington County for the landing field where FA-18 Super Hornets would practice simulated aircraft carrier night landings prompted Virginia officials to offer last week 10 alternative sites for the field, all within about 100 miles of Naval Air Station Oceana.
Lt. Gov. Perdue spoke during a meeting of ACT's executive board members, also attended by Sen. Jean Preston, R-Carteret, Rep. Alice Underhill, D-Craven, and Rep. William Wainwright, D-Craven.
Lt. Gov. Perdue, who spoke following a one and a half hour tour of Cherry Point facilities, said North Carolina 's military-friendly posture and improved military-industrial relationships have made for easier access to the Pentagon. She echoed Gov. Mike Easley's remarks earlier last week that specific alternative sites will not be publicly identified until the time is right, but she said an appropriate, environmentally sound OLF site will be found in Eastern North Carolina.
"I understand your passion about the outlying landing field - I share it," she said. "All I can say is there are really strong conversations ongoing about the sites."
The lieutenant governor said ACT, which was formed to advocate for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and NAVAIR Depot Cherry Point during earlier rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, needs to keep attention focused on the importance of the air station.
"I worry because we were so bold and loud during BRAC that the noise level has subsided about the military and the military economy," Lt. Gov. Perdue said.
She said the point should be clearly stated that Cherry Point and other area bases are not only important to the regional economy but also critical to the future of the U.S. military.
"We need to keep our noise level to high pitch so we're almost an annoyance to people," she said.
Following Lt. Gov. Perdue's departure for another appointment, Mayor Sanders said that until he had read a newsstory last week that Gov. Easley was working with the Navy to identify alternative sites, he didn't know any negotiations were going on.
But ACT member Bob Meadows said he didn't feel that the governor's office was in favor of an OLF.
Mayor Sanders said the governor had expressed publicly that he is in support of an OLF in Eastern North Carolina.
Rep. Wainwright said he believes the governor would only negotiate in a manner to protect Cherry Point.
"Anything that happens to Cherry Point devastates the economy of the region - he knows that," Rep. Wainwright said.
Also during the meeting, the board agreed to help fine-tune a resolution in support of an Eastern North Carolina OLF site presented by Sen. Preston for introduction in the Senate. Sen. Preston said her draft might not have been as strong as ACT members would like but would meet the rules requirements of the Senate. It also stopped short of pinpointing a specific OLF site.
"We don't say where but we do say 'Eastern North Carolina ,'" she said.
Sen. Preston said she would get Lt. Gov. Perdue's approval of the resolution before introducing it.
Rep. Underhill said an earlier, similar House resolution was not well written and didn't meet House requirements.
Rep. Wainwright said it is more important to have the resolution come to the Senate floor. He believes then, it would likely pass in the House.
"To maintain the state's military-friendly identity, we think it is critically important that we get this resolution passed," Rep. Wainwright said.
He said the OLF was key to bringing the two planned Navy Super Hornet squadrons to Cherry Point.
"It's my belief that without the OLF you don't get the two squadrons," Rep. Wainwright said.
He said work should be done to make sure the votes are guaranteed before the resolution is introduced.
"The worst mistake we could make is running this thing out there without the votes," he said.
Also during the meeting, Mayor Sanders pressed Carteret County Manager John Langdon on the county's lack of financial support for ACT. He said Carteret County , which has not paid its $5,000 annual dues, is the only one of about 10 government entities, including the towns of Newport and Havelock , the city of New Bern and Craven County , to withhold funding.
Mr. Langdon replied that the funding request came too late, after his proposed county budget was submitted to commissioners.
"I don't think that was very good timing," Mr. Langdon said. "The lack of funding may reflect a lack of salesmanship of this organization but there's no question of our support of Cherry Point and the military activities here."
Mr. Langdon said the county's budget process is "downright painful to the Nth degree" and ACT "hasn't made the case that justifies continued funding."
Mayor Sanders said he had gone before the county board two or three times in the past to answer questions.
Mr. Langdon asked if the county's seat at the board depended upon payment of dues.
"We want you at the table," Mayor Sanders replied.