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Duke to Do Environmental Study of Gates OLF Site

June 19, 2008

By Jeff Hampton, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jun. 19–A Duke University law clinic will conduct an environmental study at no charge of the Gates County, N.C., site where the Navy is looking at the possibility of building a jet practice airfield.

The Navy is conducting its own environmental impact study over the next year that will include the Gates County Sandbanks site, but local opponents want to make sure its conclusions are in the best interest of Gates County, said Laura Dickerson, spokeswoman for Citizens Against OLF.

The group approached the Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic for help.

“We have a lot of wetlands there, and we’re hoping this will help us learn more about them,” she said.

In January, the Navy announced five sites — two in North Carolina and three in Virginia — that could serve as an outlying landing field where pilots of F/A-18 Super Hornets could practice aircraft carrier landings. Nearly unanimous opposition has organized at each location in search of anything from a rare plant to displaced farmers to stop the Navy’s plans.

With each contributing $250,000, Camden and Currituck counties have hired a law firm, a public relations firm and an engineering firm in efforts to oppose an OLF proposed for Hales Lake.

Without financial help from the county, the Gates County citizens group has depended more on organizations offering voluntary services. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is already representing the citizens group at no charge.

“We’re very, very grateful,” Dickerson said.

On Monday, the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic offered free services, said Ryke Longest, director of the clinic.

“Sandbanks clearly has an extra diverse natural habitat that could be destroyed,” Longest said. “It is important for us to act proactively.”

Formed last year, the clinic will primarily research environmental background already published about state game lands set aside there and a tract preserved nearby by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, he said.

Graduate students, many studying environmental law, will do most of the research as part of their degree work, Longest said.

A joint venture of Duke Law School and Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic serves nonprofit organizations that are involved in conflicts related to water quality, air quality, natural resources conservation and environmental justice, among other things, according to a press release from Citizens Against OLF.

The Navy had no comment, said spokesman Ted Brown.

Jeff Hampton, (252) 338-0159, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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