County to citizens: Gear up for tough fight on OLF

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

COURTLAND—There’s “a long, bumpy road” ahead for Southampton County citizens hoping to keep the Navy and its proposed Outlying Landing Field out of the county, a group of nearly 200 heard Monday night.

“This will be a drawn-out, gut-wrenching, emotional roller-coaster ride that won’t end anytime soon,” County Administrator Michael Johnson warned during a meeting of Southampton’s Board of Supervisors.

Although the Navy took three potential county airfield sites out of contention, Johnson said he and other Southampton officials were “concerned and alarmed” when the service announced that two other sites had been shifted so that large portions of the county would be affected if they are chosen as OLF locations.

But the county will not be helpless through the selection process, he said.

The Navy’s environmental studies of the two Southampton sites, as well as one on the Surry/Prince George line and two in North Carolina, will take at least two years.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires an extensive study of wetlands and other environmental issues, as well as an examination of the cultural resources, archeology and other factors of each potential site. It provides “a doorway for citizen input,” he told supervisors.

The process also will provide an opportunity for citizens to have the Navy explain why sprawling Fort Pickett was passed over as a potential site for the airfield and whether there is really a need for a new airstrip at all.

Navy officials have said that they need a new auxiliary runway where pilots of F/A-18 Super Hornets can practice their nighttime aircraft carrier landings in darkness and safety. The current practice touch-and-go field in Chesapeake has been marginalized by encroaching development and the light that came with it, they said.

Johnson and county supervisors are working to set up Washington, D.C., meetings with Virginia’s senators to lobby their support for the county.

Meanwhile, Southampton citizens are being asked for their help in the process.

“Write to your senator and congressman,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Dallas O. Jones said to an overflowing crowd in the boardroom and hallway of the county office building. “Flood his office with letters and phone calls — anything you can do to get his attention.”