County tells Kaine: No OLF

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2007

FRANKLIN—With a tidal wave of opposition forming in northeastern North Carolina in response to a proposed auxiliary landing field for Navy jet fighters, Southampton supervisors have reiterated their own position on the matter.

The county wants no part of an Outlying Landing Field at any price.

An Oct. 1 letter to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was blunt in communicating the Board of Supervisors’ assessment of a proposal the Navy is considering that offers four locations in Southampton as potential sites for a new landing strip where pilots of F/A-18 Super Hornets could practice carrier landings.

&uot;As communicated in our earlier resolution, these sites offer no economic, environmental, geographic or strategic advantage beyond those already studied in great detail by the Navy when reaching its record of decision in 2003,&uot; County Administrator Michael Johnson wrote to Kaine.

Johnson’s letter was written at the direction of supervisors, who voted unanimously at their September meeting to have him respond to a letter from the governor asking the county to &uot;standby to see what the Navy’s next steps and level of interest will be.&uot;

&uot;While respecting your request to standby for the Navy’ next steps, the Board of Supervisors expressed concern that its silence over the next 60 days maybe misconstrued as a softening of its position or a willingness to negotiate,&uot; Johnson’s letter states.

Johnson reiterated the Southampton board’s &uot;ardent opposition&uot; to Southampton as a host for the proposed touch-and-go airfield and asked again that the governor remove the county’s four sites from Navy consideration.

When Kaine gave the Navy his list of 10 potential Virginia sites for an OLF, his representatives made a visit to Southampton, during which they told supervisors and several hundred county residents that they did not intend to force any of the five counties involved to host the airfield.

Navy officials subsequently said they would remove any site from consideration if the governor asked them to strike it from the list. He has declined to make that request, and Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter is now evaluating a secret list of locations thought to include the Virginia sites, despite the fact that all five potential host counties asked to be removed from consideration.

Winter’s office has refused to divulge the recommendations of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, which was charged with the initial evaluation of the proposed sites. It is widely believed, however, that at least some Virginia locations — including Fort Pickett, proposed separately by Sen. John Warner — and some of the six sites similarly presented this summer by North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley made the initial cut.

The Navy has indicated that Winter will trim the list to five or six candidates by about Nov. 15. The sites that make his final list then would be subject to an extensive, two-year environmental assessment that will include more public hearings and other opportunities for public input.

As Southampton County’s letter — and recent events in North Carolina — make clear, those public hearings are destined to be well-attended by impassioned citizens ready to make their voices heard in opposition to the Navy’s plans.

Meanwhile, local residents continue to try to fend off the Navy’s interest.

A group of Southampton and Sussex residents continues to rally opposition through signs posted along area roads. Lynda Updike, one of the group’s organizers, said Friday that the group has sold out of its first shipment of 100 signs. A second shipment is due soon, and many of those new signs are already spoken for, she said. Others can be bought from her or from Rick Francis of Boykins for $5.75.

Updike said her group has not set up an Internet site or planned another meeting yet. &uot;We’re sort of trying to see how this thing’s going to shake out in North Carolina,&uot; she said.

Also, the group continues to update records regarding family cemeteries and other historical landmarks located within the areas under Navy consideration. Members also have encouraged more landowners to apply for Century Farm status if their farms have been in operation at least 100 years.

An online petiton asking Gov. Kaine to remove Southampton and Sussex sites from contention also continues to garner signatures, with 359 as of Friday afternoon.