Airfield opposition builds in N.C.

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2007

FRANKLIN—Opposition to Navy scrutiny of six new sites in North Carolina for a proposed auxiliary landing field has been swift and intense.

Five of the seven counties whose borders encompass all or part of one or more sites on N.C. Gov. Mike Easley’s proffered list of potential Outlying Landing Field locations already have gone on the record opposing a North Carolina location for the airfield.

Resolutions passed by the counties and sent to federal and state officials stated that an OLF would provide few benefits to its host and that it would have substantial negative effects. Those counties are calling for the Navy to place the facility in Virginia.

Two of the six North Carolina sites proposed by Easley are located in Camden County, two are located in Gates County and two are just north of Jacksonville.

At least one citizens’ group has formed to fight the Navy, and meetings on the issue have attracted huge crowds reminiscent of the one that showed up for Southampton County’s first meeting on the subject in July.

An estimated 500 people showed up at a Gatesville, N.C., football stadium Sunday to voice their opposition to being Gates County considered for the airfield, according to news accounts.

Some of those citizens have organized a group called &uot;Citizens Against OLF,&uot; which has a Web site at Visitors to the site can download form letters to send to Congress, the Navy and the governor.

&uot;As you well know, this county is home to the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge, the Merchant’s Millpond State Park and the Chowan River,&uot; the letter to Easley states. &uot;Why would you even think of putting these natural resources, which federal and state government funds have supported for decades, at risk?&uot;

Much as in Southampton, North Carolina’s OLF opposition derives from the fears residents have of the impact a practice airfield would have on their quality of life and heritage.

&uot;(T)he homes and churches that would be displaced are irreplaceable to our county’s culture and history,&uot; the letter to the governor continues. &uot;The farming capacity would be diminished greatly,&uot; and &uot;noise and pollution&uot; would disrupt the &uot;way of life&uot; that drew many residents to the area.

A similar letter to Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter warns that the people of Gates County will not easily give up the fight.

&uot;The county cannot afford to spend its limited resources arguing with the United States Navy, but our spirit is strong and determined,&uot; that letter states. &uot;I am fully committed to doing all I can to have the Navy eliminate Gates County as a site for any OLF.&uot;

More than 1,500 people already have signed an online petition started by the Gates County group and found on the Internet at .

&uot;Gates County also offers a quality of life unlike many places left in this nation,&uot; the petition states. &uot;Introducing an OLF and noisy, night-flying Super Hornet jets into our county would destroy the rural charm and peaceful quality of the county.&uot;

One surprising note of qualified support for the six new sites came late this week from environmental groups that were opposed to the Navy’s original, preferred location, the so-called &uot;Site C&uot; in North Carolina’s Washington and Beaufort counties.

Some environmental groups said this week that the more recently proposed sites would be more environmentally acceptable than Site C, which was located near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, according to a report from The Associated Press.