Trio question OLF need

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GATESVILLE – Finally, the news has arrived that OLF (Outlying Landing Field) opponents have been waiting to hear.

Last week, North Carolina’s two US senators, Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole, joined with North Carolina Governor Michael Easley in penning a letter to US Navy Secretary Donald Winter, correspondence that questioned the Navy’s need to build a second OLF.

“That’s what we’ve been questioning all along,” said Laura Dickerson of the Gates County NO OLF. “We’re glad to see these three working together and finally addressing the actual need to build another OLF.”

The letter addressed that need in the second paragraph….“After hearing from residents in the potentially affected communities, we conclude that many North Carolinians not only do not want an OLF in their area, but they also harbor considerable doubts about the need for this facility.”

It went on to say that the Navy has said it needs a second OLF (one is already in use at Fentress Field, part of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va.) for additional training capacity. However, as the letter points out, Navy officials cited this past spring that a second OLF was needed due to growing encroachment problems at NAS Oceana as well as Fentress Field.

“While we are aware that the Navy’s recently adopted six-plus-one surge doctrine may place some measure of stress on existing training capacity, we do not understand how encroachment could have been such a pressing issue just months ago, but now has apparently become a minor and receding problem,” the letter reads. “We respectfully ask that you explain the specifics underpinning this change and how the new doctrine necessitates increased training capacity.”

Additionally, the letter addressed the lack of a financial impact on proposed sites in Gates and Camden counties if indeed the Navy needs a second practice facility. Burr, Dole and Easley said the addition of two F/A-18E/F Super Hornet squadrons at Marine Air Station Cherry Point (NC) would interject approximately $30 million per squadron into the economy of that area. However, the distance between Cherry Point and the proposed OLF sites in Gates and Camden counties is nearly 120 miles.

“In other words, the communities in the northeast region of our state would see little or no benefits to outweigh the negative attributes of a jet landing strip in their backyards,” the letter stated.

The letter closed by saying, “We take the position that if an outlying landing field were to be located in North Carolina, the Navy must work more effectively to secure the general support of the local population and we see little purpose in your pending announcement of a narrowed list unless the issue of economic benefits for the affected communities is squarely addressed.”

Secretary Winter was to have announced a narrowed list of 19 potential OLF sites (located in North Carolina and Virginia) around Nov. 15. However, no announcement has yet to be made.

Dickerson said the effort continues to keep the OLF out of Gates County.

A supply of No OLF signs has been restocked at Gates County businesses.

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