Council wants another Navy flight demonstration

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, November 10, 2010

FRANKLIN—The city of Franklin may not have a choice in whether the Navy can conduct field carrier landing practice at Franklin Municipal Airport, according to City Attorney Taylor Williams.

When the airport was deeded to the then town of Franklin in the 1940s, Williams said, the Navy retained the right to come back and use it.

“If we tried to resist that effort, then the Navy could actually step in and take over the entire airport, and of course at that point they would come anyway,” he said. “You would be running the risk of giving up the entire airport if you are to say no. Whether or not they’ll come, I can’t say. They have that right.”

The City Council on Monday tabled a vote on a memorandum of understanding with the Navy pending another “touch-and-go” demonstration.

Councilman Barry Cheatham said another demonstration was needed so the city and the citizens could have a “fair assessment” of the impact the touch-and-gos could have.

Ted Brown, a media relations officer for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said Tuesday the Navy is in the process of coordinating another flight demonstration at the airport. He said preliminary work on the environmental assessment document has already started.

“Having the memorandum of understanding in place will be helpful to continue the discussions and we hope council is able to vote on that in the near future,” Brown said.

Negotiations between the city and the Navy, Williams said, would involve compensation for services to be provided to the Navy.

“The city will be providing services and as a result of providing services the city will be compensated for the services that are rendered,” he said. “So this is not a big money-making project.”

Joe Joyner, who lives near the airport in Isle of Wight County, was one of several citizens to express dissatisfaction with the prospect of “touch-and-go” training at the airport.

“I know some of you are only seeing dollar signs and think it’s going to bail you out, but this is short-term gain at your neighbor’s expense and your city,” he said. “This is short term, and it’s going to run off a lot of potential big dollars for you.”

Earlier this year, the city responded to the Navy’s request for proposals for airports interested in hosting “touch-and-go” practices for E-2 and C-2 turboprop planes. During the process the Navy discovered its existing real estate interest at the Franklin airport.

“Perhaps had we not responded, they may not have noticed that deed, but we did,” Councilman Greg McLemore said. “I would think we would take our deliberations based on what the citizens want.”

Councilman Benny Burgess noted the importance of listening to citizens, but warned taking a “hard stand” with the Navy could be detrimental.

“Right now, we’re negotiating,” he said. “If we take a hard stand, they can take a hard stand and there won’t be any negotiating. So that’s a risk that we run.”

Before the council ended discussion on the issue, Councilwoman Mary Hilliard said everyone should “examine your heart” to at least consider the Navy’s plan.

“If everyone in the United States said ‘I don’t want training in my backyard,’ then where would we be?” she asked.