Not all negative

Published 9:20 am Saturday, December 26, 2009

I am writing in response to the October 31 letter titled “Anti-OLFer debates benefit of bringing Navy field here.” Though I have a firm opinion on the matter, I am not writing to advocate a specific outcome in the outlying landing field situation. I am writing because I want to encourage Franklin and Southampton County leaders and residents to participate in the OLF decision making process in order to ensure the best possible position for Franklin and Southampton County at the end of that process.

I am a native of Southampton County, the great-great-great granddaughter of Joseph Ezra Gillette, a trained historic preservationist and the wife of a naval aviator. As such, I have a unique perspective of both sides of the OLF issue.

I have the utmost appreciation for and interest in the preservation of the heritage and history of Franklin and Southampton County and the surrounding region. However, I am also a business person and have had to face the reality of the convergence between maintaining the historic fabric and integrity of communities and moving forward with the progress of life.

Mr. and Mrs. Updike make some valid points in their arguments against an OLF, but I believe they need to be expanded upon.

I know there are many century farms in Southampton County and surrounding areas — my own family’s included. I also know that there is a lot of land that is not a part of century farms and that people have readily sold land to developers. There are location options available for an OLF that will not destroy century farms. In addition to being able to negotiate a possible offset to lost tax revenues to be paid by the government, local farmers will find that the Navy willingly leases back land to be farmed. So, farmers can potentially continue to grow and harvest crops. The Navy has land farmed around both NAS Oceana and NAS Lemoore. This helps to maintain the rural community and culture in areas where leaders choose to zone in such a way that preserves the rural environment.

As to the citizens of Virginia Beach, Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise (CCAJN) is a loud and vocal minority. The majority of our citizens take jet noise in stride. Living in Virginia Beach, I often see and hear the jets of Oceana. The greatest annoyance is that I sometimes have to halt for a moment in a phone conversation while a jet passes overhead. They have never awakened me or my family from sleep and have certainly never terrorized my children or pets. In fact, I feel a little catch of excitement and pride when I see (and hear) the jets in the sky above me.

For that matter, on September 11, 2001, after I dropped my husband off at Oceana in what looked like a scene out of “Independence Day,” the most frightening sound to me was the complete silence that ensued after all the jets had departed to defend us. Those jets are the sound of freedom and not hearing that sound told us all that our freedom was at risk. It is vital that the people flying these jets have a safe area to train within a close proximity to the base and their families.

Sadly, Franklin and Southampton County and the surrounding areas have found themselves in the position of losing two major employers in the midst of the worst economic recession our country has seen in decades. Whatever the reasons and whoever is at fault, the fact is that the majority of businesses are contracting, not expanding. As a result, the options for a viable industry for the area are limited at best. The Navy offers a much needed lifeline to a struggling community. Mr. Flowers suggested that, as a possible alternative to relieve the current economic crisis facing the region, Franklin and Southampton County become engaged in the process of negotiating the terms of a possible OLF located in the County. I find it very concerning that, rather than accept the recommendations of a person with considerable business acumen in the spirit with which they were offered, community leaders and residents would instead choose to boycott a business (a local employer) because the owner’s advice is not what they want to hear. Like everyone else, I would love for there to be a different alternative for both the Navy and the future of Franklin-Southampton County, but both hopes look rather bleak at this time.

It is true that an OLF will not have many jobs associated with its operation. However, as Mr. Flowers points out, if the Navy is going to put it in Southampton County, it must be built and, if negotiated, this can be done using local businesses and labor where possible. The project can provide an immediate economic stimulus once it is under way.

Furthermore, even though there may be no specific line items budgeted to benefit the host location, as Mr. Flowers also noted, these things can be negotiated. Just because it is not there now does not mean it cannot be, but this can only be achieved with open deliberation and compromise.

There are many potential benefits to hosting the OLF voluntarily versus having it forced upon the County, which may indeed happen and leave us with no leverage in the process.

This is why Franklin-Southampton County leaders should be an active participant in the OLF deliberations and decisions. If the County negotiates a compromise position, then they will be able to influence the location and other aspects of the OLF and minimize the community impact.

They will also gain leverage for future projects, including the possible relocation of Oceana, which seems always on the table. This has the potential to be a long-term economic boon for the region.

However, whether or not that comes to pass, at this moment in time, I do not want to see Franklin-Southampton County, my home place, trampled upon in this process because leaders and residents do not like the view of the future they are potentially facing.

I believe a strong point can be made for participating in a negotiation process with regard to an OLF. The history of our Nation proves that the best solutions are found when parties of varying points of view are heard and compromises reached. Without this we never would have had the Constitution we enjoy today. The best solutions are never found when closed minded stubbornness causes either side to fail to see positive points in the opposition.

I hope this column will be accepted in the spirit with which it is written. I want to see Franklin and Southampton County’s heritage preserved, but I also want to see it thrive as we move forward in the 21st century. And, what greater honor than to possibly do so by being a part of helping our military to be well-trained and prepared to protect us. I hope community leaders will consider all of the options available to them and negotiate themselves into a position of leverage so they can influence the outcomes of the OLF deliberations and decisions. While bringing an OLF to the area will not be without impact, not all of it will be negative. In fact, it may well be the best way to help Franklin and Southampton County survive and thus have the option to preserve the fabric of the community and the integrity of the vast majority of its architectural, archaeological, and cultural history and heritage. Please take the time to listen and know all of the aspects of that to which you are saying no.