Airfield opponents remain vigilant

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2007

COURTLAND—For Lynda Updike and many of the nearly 300 citizens in a sweltering building at the Southampton County Fairgrounds Wednesday night, the fight has just begun.

Despite the fact the Board of Supervisors voted earlier in the day to ask that four Southampton sites be withdrawn from a list of potential locations for an auxiliary airstrip to be used for Navy pilot training, Updike and others vowed not to stop fighting.

&uot;We’ve got to keep on keeping on until we see that no site in Southampton County is on that list,&uot; she said, noting that &uot;organization and solidarity are the keys.&uot;

The group met to discuss potential responses to Southampton’s inclusion on a list of 10 potential locations for an airstrip that would supplement training operations at Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress.

The governor’s Office on Commonwealth Preparedness submitted the list last month in response to a request by the Navy to identify potential alternatives to its preferred site in Washington County, N.C.

That North Carolina location has been the subject of multiple environmental and legal challenges, postponing the Navy’s plans for a new outlying landing facility.

Other sites proposed in Virginia are located in Sussex, Surry, Greensville and King and Queen counties. North Carolina was also asked to submit a list of possible locations, which officials there asked the Navy to keep private. Another Virginia site, Fort Pickett, had been submitted to the Navy earlier by U.S. Sen. John Warner.

Although Navy representatives have said on numerous occasions that they do not wish to push another community into a relationship, many of those attending Wednesday’s citizens’ rally were suspicious and unwilling to take the Navy at its word.

&uot;These are not people who are fighting the country; these are people who are fighting the government’s policy, which you know and I know is wrong,&uot; said Ellis James, a Norfolk resident who has been working with the group North Carolinians Opposed to the Outlying Landing Field.

James, a retiree who describes himself as an &uot;observer&uot; for the Sierra Club, has been involved heavily in the effort to keep the Navy from building its airstrip in Washington County, N.C., or in any of the other northeastern N.C. locations the service has considered.

&uot;We have a very deep commitment to making sure the government is doing things that are right and not wrong,&uot; he said.

Much of the opposition to the Washington County site came about because of environmentalists’ concerns about the effects thousands of touch-and-go landings would have on a wildlife refuge in that area.

Though Southampton lacks such a refuge, he said, the county does have wildlife, and it has historical sites that would be put at risk by the landing field.

Residents need to continue to work together to make sure the Navy keeps its word and turns its attention from Southampton County, he said. But it was clear from his remarks that James has little confidence in the Navy’s promises.

&uot;The Navy has pressured people in North Carolina over and over and over again,&uot; he said. &uot;Now you need to clearly understand that this is the time to continue to send your e-mails and make your calls.&uot;

&uot;Let’s all hang together,&uot; Updike said to the crowd. &uot;I hope all of us will still stay in the fight. We want to save our homes, save our heritage, save our history and save our way of life.&uot;

Those attending were encouraged to contribute to a fund to buy &uot;No OLF&uot; signs. Boykins attorney and history buff Rick Francis also asked residents to carefully examine site maps and identify any historical details that might be impacted by the airstrips.

&uot;We’d like to keep a high visibility, to keep this on the front burner,&uot; he said.