OLF opponents see strength in numbers

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

FRANKLIN—Virginia communities that try to go it alone in their fight to avoid hosting an outlying landing field could find themselves fighting a losing battle against the Navy, OLF opponents fear.

The new auxiliary landing site, which would be used by pilots learning to land their jet fighters on carrier decks, is unnecessary and would irredeemably change the character of any of the areas now under consideration, they say.

Organizers believe a united front against the OLF is far more likely to be successful than separate efforts by those who would be affected in Southampton, Sussex, Surry and Prince George counties.

&uot;We don’t want this thing to wind up just going to Surry so that it doesn’t come to Southampton County,&uot; Capron resident Tony Clark explained last week.

Clark is chairman of a group that calls itself Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field. Organized largely by Southampton County residents, the group is conscientiously working to include residents of the other at-risk counties in its fight against the OLF.

&uot;I envision one group representing the citizens of Southampton, Surry and Sussex,&uot; Clark said. &uot;I don’t see this (effort) being successful&uot; without that broad-based support.

Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field grew out of a seed planted last August, when a group of hundreds of Southampton and Sussex residents met at the Southampton County Fairgrounds to discuss their concerns about the news that the Navy was considering sites in the two counties for the new airfield.

Although no meetings were set at the time, physical and email addresses were collected, along with telephone numbers, and a loosely organized network of opponents began to watch developments related to the OLF.

They kept one another informed with mass emails, and they encouraged letter-writing and phone campaigns to area media outlets and government representatives.

During a meeting in Capron earlier this month, leaders of that loose-knit group agreed to set up an organizational structure and appoint officers. Thus was born Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field.

Clark emerged from relative obscurity within the movement to take the position of chairman when — as a member of the steering committee tasked with recommending people to fill the leadership positions — he saw that no one was stepping up to take on the role.

Statesville resident Lynda Updike, who had been a major organizing force and hub of information by email, had told fellow opponents at an earlier meeting that she didn’t have time to lead the group, as she and her husband had &uot;a crop to get in the ground.&uot;

Clark, an employee benefits consultant with Manry-Rawls insurance company in Franklin, figured someone needed to step up and take on the leadership role, he said this week, so he told committee members he would be willing to fill the position. He was installed without opposition.

Since taking the job, Clark has been busy getting the new group off the ground and spreading the word about its goals.

&uot;Our short-term goal is to make everyone aware of what ‘OLF’ means,&uot; he said in an interview Wednesday. &uot;We want to make the public aware that there is an organization — there is a committee organized — to represent the community.&uot;

The group is drawing up its articles of incorporation, which will allow it to accept donations. And Clark expects a Web site — www.novaolf.com — to be live by the end of the month.

Clark leads an executive committee rounded out by Vice Chair Kay Pope, Treasurer Charlie Settle and Secretary Peggy Simmons. Committees are being formed to deal with legislative issues, government relations, public relations, fundraising, environmental impact and historical and cultural issues, he said, and there is the possibility of a veterans’ committee being added to the mix.

Although the need for quick action resulted in an executive committee comprising only Southampton residents, Clark said he envisions Sussex and Surry residents having a considerable impact on the group.

After all, he said, all three communities are similarly at risk from the Navy’s plans.

Take away the homes that would be needed for any of the three proposed Virginia OLF sites, he said, &uot;and you are permanently and radically changing a way of life that’s existed for hundreds of years.&uot;

Clark expects the anti-OLF group to hold regular meetings during the next 30 months or so, while the Navy is engaging in its federally required environmental impact studies of the three sites proposed in Virginia and the two proposed in North Carolina.

&uot;Donations,&uot; he said on Thursday, &uot;have been flooding in&uot; and may be sent to Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, P.O. Box 112, Capron, VA 23829.