Advice to OLF foes: Organize, unite

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2008

SURRY—They’ve been promised help from attorneys and legislators, but opponents of an outlying landing field proposed by the Navy for a site at Cabin Point have been warned that much of the fight during the next couple of years will fall on their shoulders.

&uot;You’ll have to organize yourselves,&uot; Surry Board of Supervisors Chairman M. Sherlock Holmes told a crowd of about 200 gathered Thursday at L.P. Jackson Middle School for a special forum on the Navy’s proposed auxiliary airfield. &uot;It’s up to you now, from this point on, to organize locally.&uot;

Holmes’ comments came near the end of a meeting the board had set up to give Navy officials a chance to make their pitch for the facility and to introduce county residents to the attorney who will represent Surry, Southampton, Sussex and Greensville counties during the Navy’s two-year environmental study.

Southampton and Sussex counties share two other sites under consideration by the Navy. Northeastern North Carolina has two on the list, as well. All five sites will be targets of an intensive two-year environmental review that is expected to begin in earnest in April.

Holmes’ advice may have sounded a bleak tone during Thursday’s meeting, but citizens opposed to the OLF got some encouraging news during a question-and-answer session, when a state legislator and the aide to a U.S. congressman both vowed to support the county in its fight against the Navy.

Del. William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, whose 64th District includes Surry and a portion of Southampton, told the audience, &uot;Those of us who are local legislators are going to stand up for our constituents. Of all the places (the Navy) could go, why do they come in and take good virgin land, unspoiled?&uot;

He warned Surry citizens to stand arm-in-arm with the other counties involved in the process and suggested they look for help wherever they can find it.

&uot;United we stand; divided we fall,&uot; Barlow said. &uot;This is like a battlefield, and we’ve got to have our horses coming from several directions.&uot;

One voice that had been silent on the OLF issue before Thursday was that of U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., who represents the 3rd Congressional District. An aide on hand for the forum stood when challenged and said of his boss: &uot;His official position right now is that he will support the Surry County resolution (against the OLF) that was passed. As long as that is the county’s position, he will support it.&uot;

Supervisors and their constituents were also encouraged by Barry Steinberg, the attorney hired to represent Surry and the other counties under consideration for the OLF.

&uot;In a democracy, the will of the people counts,&uot; he said, suggesting that citizens contact their legislators, including those running for election, to get them on the record regarding their positions on the OLF.

&uot;This needs to be an issue for the people that are running&uot; for John Warner’s U.S. Senate seat, he said. &uot;Whoever is running for Senate ought to have to take a position.&uot;

Airfield opponents also should raise every objection and concern they can think of during the environmental impact study period required under the National Environmental Policy Act, he said.

Whether they are worried about the potential impact on global warming from cutting down 2,000 acres of trees to accommodate the airstrip or about the potential loss of historic sites or about the loss of county services that could result from a drop in tax revenue when that land is removed from the tax rolls, citizens should put those questions in writing and submit them as part of the NEPA process, Steinberg said.

The Navy would then be required to &uot;take a hard look&uot; at those concerns and answer them or prove them to be frivolous.

&uot;You can’t hold back an issue and wait until the Record of Decision is issued,&uot; he said. By then, it will be too late.

He suggested that opponents present specific concerns as part of the process, rather than just the general statement that they don’t think the Navy should build the facility in their community.

&uot;They got that message before they ever got here,&uot; he said.