We lose faith when it comes to OLF

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are we being sold a bill of goods by honorable men and women who profess to know better?

It certainly felt that way this week when United States Navy officials said they had culled their list of possible sites of an uninvited outlying landing field to a more manageable number of five, at least one of which wasn’t even on the original list.

This is particularly bad news for those in Southampton County who oppose situating a field in this area. Four of the five remaining sites (and we say “remaining” with a proviso that other sites could be mentioned at any time, given the Navy’s history of playing ping-pong with its word) either lie within the county or is on the flight path of jets who would use the field to practice takeoffs and landings at every hour of the day, every day of the week.

And the fifth site — at Hale’s Lake in North Carolina, is about six miles from Elizabeth City and is an unlikely destination. It is home to vast wetlands and numerous bird species that even the Navy would have to think twice about before building there.

By shear odds created by raw numbers, Southampton opponents of the OLF aren’t feeling terribly comfortable right now

So, here’s where the Navy has left us: In the summer, it was announced that 10 sites in Virginia and North Carolina were being considered a site to build a new training field for jets stationed at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. Much of the local citizenry went on a campaign to oppose the plan, citing everything from loss of property values to compromise of a quiet, rural way of life to destruction of livestock as a result of the incredible noise Super Hornets make when they land and take off.

Then, in the one of the first public meetings to discuss the issue, an

informational meeting held on July 23 at Southampton High School, a state official said no landing field would be considered in an area in which the populace objected.

It was the first public meeting held in the affected areas, and subsequent meetings were held in localities in other rural areas in Virginia and North Carolina, at school or community gathering places. And the returns from those meetings were unanimous: While citizens realized the need for Navy pilots to train and be successful at their missions, that training was not to be done in the citizens’ back yards.

Thousands of people turned out for community meetings in the summer of 2007, some wearing anti-OLF shirts, some carrying anti-OLF signs, others hanging anti-OLF banners.

And at each stop, residents believed an OLF location would not be forced on them if a community did not want one.

The first deadline to narrow its list came on Nov. 15. It came and went without such a list being made public.

And just as other areas opposed an OLF being built in their back yard, the populace in this area also objected, writing letters to local elected officials and to state officials. Apparently, however, those objections were not laced with enough vinegar or political acumen to make their point.

Something happened, perhaps, that made Southampton County sites attractive.

And this has been a ticklish protest: It is an effort to tell the Navy, in a time of war when air superiority is crucial, that its training facility is not welcomed. While the level of patriotism was never in the forefront of the protests, it did create an undercurrent that seemingly compromised its vigor.

More months-long studies are expected in the areas surrounding the five remaining sites, but it appears to us that the Navy has made up its mind, and that Southampton County is going to be a partner with the Navy, whether or not it is willing.