OLF rally attracts big crowd

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2007

GATESVILLE – Several touchdowns were scored, but nary a football was in sight here Sunday night.

In a meeting at the Gates County High School football stadium, citizens from every nook, corner and cranny of the county gathered to hear passionate pleas from their friends and neighbors to stop an OLF (Outlying Landing Field) from possibly locating in the county.

Two weeks ago, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and U.S. Navy officials targeted six new sites in the state as possible locations to build a practice landing field for Navy fighter jet pilots. Two of those sites are in Gates County n one in the Sand Banks area and the other near Hobbsville.

Judging from the reaction of the crowd at a meeting last Monday night at the Gates County Courthouse as well as from those gathered on Sunday at the high school, no one wants the OLF.

“I’m on your side,” District 4 State Senator Ed Jones told the crowd. “I encourage you to send your questions and concerns to me so that we can address those issues. Please write me or call me.”

Several prominent Gates County citizens followed Senator Jones to the podium, each concerned about the detrimental impact an OLF would have locally.

“We enjoy the quality of life we have here,” stated now retired Gates County educational administrator John Perry. “The OLF will destroy that quality of life.”

Helen Chaney Jordan said she had lived in Gates County all her life and traveled every road.

“If an OLF comes, what few jobs it would bring would not offset the loss of agriculture, wildlife, neighbors and family,” Jordan noted.

Maxine Wiggins said her 100-plus year-old family farm in the Sandy Cross community would be affected if the OLF is built there.

“The old railroad bed site they’re talking about splits my family farm right down the middle,” she said. “Not only will the landing field disrupt my family and the pride we have in our farm, but disrupt so many lives in our county and in Perquimans County. Let’s rise to the cause and keep this out of our area.”

Rev. Eugene Fields urged Gates County citizens to drop to their knees and ask God for guidance.

“We need to work together on this and pray together on this,” Rev. Fields said. “Our maker is in charge. If we ask (for guidance) in faith, things will be granted by grace.”

Ora Hall urged everyone in Gates County to stand united on this issue.

“Where there is unity, there is strength,” Hall said. “We must combine our efforts to get the job done and that job is to say no to the OLF.”

After a group of county schoolchildren sang “We’re Not Going to Take It,” Brian Johnson, pastor of Stoney Branch Baptist Church, said the U.S. Government may appear too big to tackle, but don’t underestimate the power of faith.

“The government may look like a giant, but we are a people of faith,” Johnson said. “Do not let this (OLF) come here. Farmers, whatever they offer you for your land, refuse it. Don’t let them kill our land and our rich history.”

Other Gates County citizens came to the podium to voice their displeasure over the possible construction of the OLF. Timmy Hedgepeth, the third generation of Tarheel Barbecue ownership, said he wanted to see landmarks such as his family business remain strong.

Frank Rountree spoke of the detrimental impact the OLF, considering its noise and jet fuel pollution, would have on “one of God’s most beautiful creations n Merchant’s Millpond State Park.”

Robert Mickey of Hobbsville and his two sons spoke of the negative impact the OLF would have on agriculture, as did Russell Blanchard, a Gates County poultry farmer.

Stan Winslow, president of the Perquimans County ‘No OLF’ group, pledged the support of that organization and in-turn asked for Gates County’s cooperation to help fight the OLF plans in his home county.

A pair of Gates County High School students, Asia Ralph and Ethan Campbell, joined the adults in stating why an OLF isn’t a good fit for the county.

“Gates County has always been a peaceful area and it’s not fair to have that taken away,” Ralph said. “This will force families to move if it comes, but we will not give up without a fight.”

Campbell took another approach.

“The Washington bureaucrats have lost the meaning of respect,” he said. “They have a lack of respect for the citizens of Gates County. They have taken for granted that we will sit idle and accept this. Looking and listening to the crowd here tonight, I say not so.”

Following the speeches, those in attendance were encouraged to sign No OLF petitions, fax messages and post cards that will be sent to state and federal officials, including Gov. Easley, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter and U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield.

“Our representatives have clearly said they will not support an OLF in an area where the citizens do not want it,” was among the many messages printed in a handout distributed on Sunday night.

Additionally, NO OLF signs, t-shirts and bumper stickers were available to the public.

For more information about the issue, visit www.citizensagainstolf.com.