OLF foes hope letters, video will help cause

Published 8:17 am Friday, February 6, 2009

COURTLAND—Opponents of the Navy’s plans to construct an Outlying Landing Field somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina are gearing up for the next round in the battle.

Tony Clark, chairman of the group Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, urged the standing-room-only crowd at Wednesday night’s meeting at the Southampton County Government Center to write letters to elected officials.

“Please take the time to hand write a note,” Clark said. “(Elected officials) read handwritten letters. Make it sincere. Be yourself. We need to be writing our congressmen and our senators, our delegates and our state senators as well, and letting them know we appreciate their support. We’re opposed to the OLF, but we need to tell them why. And we can’t just tell them ‘because it’s going to be loud.’”

Clark asked the audience to commit to writing one letter a week for the next month. “It won’t take you very much time,” he said.

He recognized one elected official in the audience, Delegate Roslyn Tyler (D-75th).

“Roslyn is the first elected official that stuck her neck out for us,” Clark said. “She crossed party lines — which in Virginia is not an easy thing to do — and told (Gov. Tim Kaine) that he should stick to his word, and not force this on a community that does not want it. Roslyn has not wavered in the last 18 months.”

According to Clark, VAOLF is pursuing a two-prong attack against the Navy’s plans – to dispute any scientific and environmental findings, and to press hard in the political and public relations arenas.

The environmental impact statement expected by the Navy this summer would contain “a lot of facts and figures,” Clark said, “all of the kind of statistical stuff that doesn’t really get people fired up.”

But political and public relations were another matter.

“What gets people going (is) talking about taking people from their homes,” Clark said. “What we’re talking about here is the Navy telling you that you can no longer live where you choose to live. And for those of you that do get to keep your land, you no longer get to live in the manner in which you have become accustomed, and the manner in which you have chosen to live.”

A 17-minute video created by VAOLF — interviews with citizens and officials from Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties — was shown at the meeting. Clark said the purpose of the video was twofold: to educate the public, and to generate interest in the national media.

“We’re going to send this off to every major media outlet in the United States,” Clark said. “Morley Safer and Oprah will both be getting a copy. Our hope is that someone at the national level finds this interesting enough to come and do a story.

“The brass ring really is ‘60 Minutes’ or ‘20/20’ or ‘Dateline,’ or whichever one wants to come. We’ll be glad to have all of them. The day that they show up, we’ll accommodate them all.”

Clark explained why there has been a lull recently in the OLF debate.

“We didn’t really have anything new to tell,” Clark said. “We’re kind of in a nebulus period right now where we’ve both gone off to our respective corners. We’re working our tails off behind the scenes. The Navy is doing the same thing.”

Barry Steinberg, an attorney and retired colonel with the U.S. Army who has been working with VAOLF, said the Navy should move the master jet base at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.

“The master jet base needs to go someplace else,” Steinberg said. “The Navy’s got a problem. It’s got an obsolete base (Oceana). The pilots there cannot take off the way they ought to take off in practice for what they do in combat.”

Steinberg said many of the problems with Oceana and its existing OLF, Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress, were intricately tied to the city of Virginia Beach. He cited noise constraints, encroachment, and an accident potential zone that raises the risk to civilians.

“If the capacity for night training at Fentress is inadequate, it’s inadequate because you’ve got eight squadrons you’re trying to jam in there (at Oceana),” Steinberg said. “It’s not a great mystery that you think you’d like another OLF. But it’s not the only solution to the problem.”

Steinberg suggested the Navy send two aircraft squadrons to military installations in Cherry Point, N.C. and Beaufort, S.C. — a suggestion he said would be much cheaper than the $250 million the Navy could spend constructing an OLF.

“If you can solve this problem by moving squadrons, you don’t need to through all of this kind of stuff,” Steinberg said. “It is so apparent that Oceana is a flawed installation, that it should not be used for its present purpose. And it is so apparent that Cherry Point and Beaufort can accommodate the shortfall that the Navy has identified. It makes no sense for us to sit here and go through this.”