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Report faults Camden OLF site: Navy overhaul could cost up to $17.3M

20 December 2008

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USA — The Hale’s Lake site might not be suitable for the Navy’s proposed Outlying Landing Field, according to an engineering and soil evaluation report released Thursday.

“The contention is that it’s just not suitable soil to build something like an OLF,” said Camden County Manager Randell Woodruff. “I don’t know if it’s a victory, but its a start,” Woodruff said. “I hope the Navy will use the information when making their decision.”

The study, commissioned by Camden and Currituck County officials earlier this year, was produced by Chan Bryant, vice-president of environmental services with Cary-based engineering company Withers & Ravenel, Inc.

Bryant analyzed the potential of peat soil combustion, soil type and suitability, cost projections to remove organic soils, and the environmental impact to wetlands and endangered species.

Hale’s Lake was originally part of the Great Dismal Swamp, but is now used primarily as farmland.

While the land is well-served as for agriculture use, the study determines the soil’s flammable organics would not support OLF activity.

“I think it’s a well-done study, and it really highlights the main issues,” Woodruff said.

Bryant determined the upper soil stratum is comprised of combustible organic peat, which is highly susceptible to smoldering-type fires that are difficult to extinguish.

He warned that jet engine activity near the flammable soil could produce devastating fires that could last weeks at a time, and produce vast smoke plumes that generate air quality concerns.

Six types of soil were identified in Hale’s Lake, including three variations of muck, a water-based soil with poor drainage and permeability.

What’s more, if the Navy were to move forward with the project in Hale’s Lake, Bryant projected an estimated cost of $10.6 million and $14 million to excavate and replace both the upper and lower layers of unsuitable soils on approximately 2.6 million cubic yards.

The study also anticipates the real possibility of additional costs related to the construction of an airport runway on soggy soils.

Projected costs for additional hauling miles to transport materials to construct a wider aggregate base course, which is built under a concrete or asphalt pavement runway, will cost between $1.5 million and $3.3 million not including the remaining construction materials.

Bryant examined the environmental impact to wetlands, threatened and endangered species and their habitats. He concluded the Hale’s Lake area is known to house among others, two species of federally protected birds, the Red-cockaded woodpecker and the shortnose sturgeon, as well as large populations of migratory birds such as tundra swans and snow geese.

With the loss of crop and farmland to the construction of the airport strip could significantly impact other wildlife in the area such as deer, raccoon and snakes. The study also notes a potential impact to wetlands in the surrounding area.

Navy officials are currently eyeing five potential areas to build the jet-landing strip — two in Northeastern North Carolina and three in Virginia — which will provide a training location for pilots to practice touch-and-go drills.

Camden is thought to be the Navy’s first choice for the landing field.

Results of the soil study will be presented to Navy officials next year.

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