If Franklin is indeed Navy’s best option, she will sacrifice

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, December 29, 2010

by Lynne Rabil

In my opinion there are two issues at play when it comes to discussions of the Navy’s use of the Franklin airport.
One has to do with the transparency with which negotiations were initiated in the first place. When the Navy sent out a “request for proposals,” the entire City Council should have discussed whether or not to proceed. It would have been proper for the early discussions to take place behind closed doors, but when the council reached a decision to proceed, officials in Isle of Wight should have immediately been contacted before any further discussion with the Navy continued.
Unfortunately, such was not the case and it appears that discussions as early as a year ago were held independently and without the knowledge of the entire Franklin City Council.  Overzealousness or haste after the announced closing of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill led us to this place. The fact that the Navy “discovered” that it had a legal right to the airport is a sidebar to what transpired. It is not the Navy with whom we should have a grievance.
The position that the Franklin City Council should take is to encourage the Navy to continue the process of evaluating other neighboring airports despite the longstanding contractual agreement. Every angle, including the impact on home values or new economic development interests, should be evaluated. If it is then determined that Franklin Municipal Airport is indeed the best facility with the least impact, then so be it.
Unlike individuals in Virginia Beach or in Chesapeake, who chose to move into the noise zones, we are having this new experience thrust upon us. I am not happy that the peaceful existence my family has enjoyed in our neighborhood for more than 30 years will be disrupted by noise of any kind. It is not jet noise, but it is a loud, repetitive and annoying noise.
On the other hand, I have been studying and learning as much as I could about the Navy’s struggle to ensure the safety of pilots since 2002 — long before most people of Southampton County ever heard of an outlying landing field or OLF. That was the year the Navy announced that it was acquiring land in a remote county in North Carolina and the same year my family acquired property in an adjacent county.
I read every article I could get my hands on and was pleased when the Navy capitulated in January 2008 as a result of pressure from the North Carolina congressional delegation. Imagine my surprise and concern to then learn that our own U.S. Sen. John Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine offered three potential Virginia sites to the Navy.
I attended the early meetings in Southampton to learn as much as I could about the process that would be taken to select a site, one of which is very close to my childhood home and business. My opinions vary and my emotions have run the gamut, but I have tried very hard to look at both sides of the issues with the Navy.
I even participated in a trip to the U.S.S. Harry Truman when it was engaged in practice exercises to learn first-hand what these young men and women experience when they fly jets onto a moving target in the middle of the ocean. I am not naïve either and believe that the need must be compelling before the lives of so many are disrupted just so that Virginia Beach can continue indiscriminate development. I personally think Virginia Beach or Chesapeake owes compensation to any community that is affected by the Navy’s need to look elsewhere.
Today, in an altogether different situation with the Navy, our home on Beechwood Drive will consistently be the most highly impacted home within the Franklin city limits. If we weren’t so disappointed, the irony would be humorous. Disappointment, however, is not a burden, and neither is noise.  Noise is easy to overcome as compared to other burdens that might be suffered such as:
• The death of a 20-something son or daughter who is serving to protect our country
• The loss of the economic engine that sustains the quality of life of every man, woman and child in our region
• An attack on our soil from unfriendly powers
• Being forced into gas chambers or concentration camps
• Hunger and starvation
• Homelessness
My parents’ generation grew up during the Depression and then went on to fight the power of Adolf Hitler. Theirs were burdens from which we are not so far removed, and thank God we only know their stories.
While the issue of the OLF and the Navy practice landings in Franklin are not the same, they are inextricably related. It is easy to say I don’t want this is my back yard. I would like for the Navy to evaluate all possible options, but if the ultimate decision is that these young men and women have no better place to practice than a landing strip next to the Blackwater River, then they should practice in my front yard.

LYNNE RABIL is a Franklin resident and Southampton County business owner. Her e-mail address is lynne@hubspeanuts.com.