N.C. farmers: Soil is all wrong for Navy OLF site

N.C. farmers: Soil is all wrong for Navy OLF site

11 August 2008

published by hamptonroads.com

USA — Camden County farmers say flammable and unstable peat beneath the surface of bean fields here make this the wrong place for the Navy to build an airfield.

They hope soil samples taken last week will verify what they say and what past soil surveys suggest because they don’t want a practice field here.

Hales Lake, one of five sites where the Navy proposes building an outlying landing field, was once part of the Dismal Swamp. Soybean fields stretch for miles uninterrupted except for large drainage ditches. Without drainage, the fields could not be farmed. The area isn’t called Hales Lake for nothing, OLF opponents say.

Surveys show deep layers of organic material

cover the area. The land must be drained to get a tractor through it. An 8,000-foot runway pounded by F/A-18 Hornets landing and taking off would not hold up, said Jeff Jennings, a farmer who owns much of the land, and chairman of the Camden County Board of Commissioners.

“I’ve seen peat out there go 12 to 15 feet down,” Jennings said.

The nearby Blackwater Worldwide complex, however, includes an operational runway. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell would not comment on construction details.

Farmers will not burn stubble off harvested wheat fields here as they normally do because of worries that the fire will sink into the peat. It can burn for months underground, leaving gaps that would have to be filled in with a bulldozer, said Kevin Jennings, Jeff Jennings’ brother.

To get samples, engineers sank clear tubes about 16 feet into the ground in seven spots and removed the tubes filled with dirt in visible layers, Kevin Jennings said.

Surveys of Camden County show the Hales Lake area with four different soil types, Roper muck, Belhaven muck, Wasda muck and Hyde silt loam. The survey describes each of these soils to be very wet with a low strength level, unsuitable for septic systems and unstable as a construction base.

“If you step in that stuff when it’s wet, you sink to your knees,” said Steve Sutton, the Camden County ranger for the North Carolina Forest Service. “It’s not solid at all.”

Currituck and Camden counties hired Cary engineering firm Withers & Ravenel to study the possible effects of an OLF might on storm-water runoff, soils, wetlands and wildlife, among other things. The soil samples were among the first steps of the study.

The Navy is negotiating with landowners at all five proposed sites to get access for its own environmental study, said Navy spokesman Ted Brown. Soil samples will be part of the Navy’s study, he said.

A report on the soil samples was not completed as of Friday, said John Morrison, Camden County attorney.

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