Did we shoot ourselves in the foot again?

Published 8:15 am Friday, February 25, 2011

by Holt Livesay

After the meeting of City Council last week (“No to Navy planes; Council votes 5-2 against pilot training,” Feb. 16), I had a sinking feeling.

I have said for many years that if Union-Camp/International Paper were to close down in 30 to 50 years, Franklin would look like Dendron. Have you ever been through Dendron on Route 31 in Surry County?

It is a ghost town of empty lots and dilapidated buildings (and some well kept, I hasten to add) with 300 residents and one commercial enterprise — an old convenience store/gas station.

In the late 1920s, Dendron had a population of 3,500, a good-sized town at that time, with movie theaters, hotels, banks, automobile dealerships, churches, schools and retail stores. Then Surry Lumber Co. went bankrupt.

Thirty years later, there was almost nothing there, and now 80 years later, it is a ghost town.

And when they recently had an opportunity to host a multi-million dollar electricity generating plant, many of the residents vehemently opposed it. They’d rather have their high unemployment.

I hate to look at the parallels with Franklin.

Franklin still maintains the position of “send us your money, but don’t bother us with your activity or business demands.” Time and time again Franklin has rebuffed businesses trying to enter the area, or to expand their operations here.

We still are in denial regarding IP’s closure. We’d better jump on any opportunity we have for almost any legal activity.

At the City Council meeting last week, a well-dressed and distinguished-looking gentleman from out-of-town was sitting in front of me. As the Council debate went along, we exchanged comments from time to time.

When the vote was taken, and the Navy’s use of the airport was denied, the gentleman turned to me and said calmly something to the effect that Franklin could forget about any further assistance or consideration from McDonnell.

I later heard from a reliable source that he was from the aviation branch of the State Department of Transportation.

There were other well-dressed people from out of town in the audience; someone knowledgeable speculated that they were representatives of our congressman or other Washington leaders.

Influential people from outside were watching us, and we showed them, by golly! We don’t want any new activity, just send us the money.

Much has been said about the Navy’s $700,000 to $1 million offer to reimburse Franklin’s expenditures required by the Navy. Franklin calculated that the expenses would be more in the neighborhood of $3 million.

Have any of you keen businesspeople ever made your top-dollar offer in the opening round of a negotiation? If we could reasonably prove the amount of expenditures required, we could get the Navy to pay them.

It would be unlawful for them to come in and demand services and not pay for them. Franklin simply wouldn’t have to provide the services at a loss. But the Navy asked us to calculate the costs.

We did, but then we didn’t present our findings to them and ask them to pay the costs. There are city officials who feel confident that they could have negotiated for the Navy to cover the costs fully.

A friend pointed out to me the irony that the most stringent and vocal opposition to the Navy’s use of the airport appeared to come from retired employees of a paper mill that ran a noisy and dirty operation — closer to town than the airport — 24/7 for nearly 75 years and pumped millions of tons of pollution into the air and dumped some into the rivers. And now they’re opposed to having airplanes fly overhead occasionally.

I conclude that Franklin had better get a grip, or in 50 years it may be the new Dendron.

HOLT M. LIVESAY is a Franklin resident. His email address is hlive@verizon.net.