Residents respond to Navy proposal

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011


FRANKLIN—Little love was evident during a Valentine’s Day town hall meeting of the Franklin City Council and Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

After presentations from city and Navy officials about the proposed use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training, many of the nearly 200 in attendance peppered council members with questions, comments and concerns.

The forum’s ground rules — that only questions would be fielded and that answers would not be immediately given — were unpopular with citizens, several of whom ignored the rules and criticized the city’s pursuit of the project.

City Manager June Fleming estimated the city’s cost of providing required services at $3 million. The Navy has projected paying the city $700,000 to $1 million annually to host the training.

Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, commended the gathering as an example of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Harvey explained that Fentress landing field in Chesapeake is at capacity and relief is needed. Pilots of turboprop aircraft go to Florida to train, and a local alternative is needed.

He said the Navy hoped to help a community struggling to recover from a major flood in 1999 and the loss of its anchor employer, International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill.

In an apparent reference to Fleming’s estimate of $3 million that it would cost the city to host the training, Harvey said that some of the city manager’s “numbers didn’t ring true.”

“We very much want to be here. It’s an opportunity for the city,” he said. “I ask you to never forget what will be done 10,000 miles from home, at night, in lousy weather. They (the pilots) do it in response to any need.”

Todd M. Watkins, commanding officer of the VAW 120 Carrier Airborne, Early Warning Squadron, said the safety record of the E-2C and C-2A aircraft to be used in practice “is exemplary, with no fatalities, civilian injuries or property damage.”

Further, “no unnecessary risks are taken. Safety and quality training will not be compromised,” Watkins said.

Franklin resident Chuck Lilley bristled at being told he could not read a written statement from longtime Franklin civic and business leader Sol Rawls, who could not attend the forum due to health reasons.

“It’s disgraceful,” Lilley said.

Some audience members shouted, “Let him speak,” and Lilley eventually read Rawls’ statement over the mayor’s objections.

Questions from citizens covered such issues as noise, safety, impact on housing prices, exclusive airport use, fuel dumping, monetary compensation, and alternate airfields.