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Anti OLF coalition formed

United…that’s the logic behind a combined effort to keep the U.S. Navy from building an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in northeastern North Carolina.

Last week, representatives from the Gates County Citizens Against OLF met with the Camden No OLF group and the county managers from Gates, Camden and Currituck to form a Northeastern NC Coalition.

“The coalition’s purpose is to show regional organized opposition to an OLF,” said Laura Dickerson of the Gates County group.

In their joint meeting, the coalition decided to continue efforts to keep the public aware, work on good press coverage, especially in the Virginia newspapers, continue working on local, regional, state and national supporters and continue contact with elected officials and the Navy.

“We want to stress to our elected officials as well as the Navy that there is no economic incentive that would compare to what we would lose,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson urged local citizens to help the effort by continuing to voice their opposition to the Secretary of the Navy (703-693-4530).

She also urged OLF opponents to call North Carolina Governor Michael Easley (1-800-662-7952), Senator Elizabeth Dole (1-866-420-6084) and Senator Richard Burr (1-800-685-8916). Earlier this month, that trio combined to send a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, one inquiring of the real need of an OLF as well sharing information on the unfavorable economic impact an OLF would have on rural counties.

“We need to call the governor and our senators and thank them for their Dec. 4 letter and let them know we need their continued support,” Dickerson said.

Those wishing to learn more about the Gates County Citizens Against OLF can call 252-357-1909 or visit

www.citizensagainstolf.com.

In a related matter, upon approving the annual defense authorization bill on Dec. 12, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) said the House closed the door on the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field in Washington County.

“The House has taken the Washington County site off the table because it posed a danger to the community, pilots and aircraft,” Butterfield said. “This is a clear message that if the Navy wants to move forward with an OLF it must have the support of the community.”

The conference report on the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Bill includes language repealing “the authority for construction of an outlying landing field at Washington County, North Carolina.” The language goes on to say conferees “expect the Department of the Navy to request new authorization for an outlying field once a study of the impact to the environment is complete and a site is selected.”

The House approved the bill by a 370 to 49 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate for an up or down vote, and, if approved, it goes to President Bush to be signed into law.

The Navy has already purchased more than 2,000 acres in Washington and Beaufort counties as part of a 30,000-acre OLF the Navy says it needs in order to train pilots to land on aircraft carriers. The proposed site lies just west of an area that was established specifically as a waterfowl sanctuary where thousands of birds winter annually.

At peak, there are about 25,000 tundra swans and more than 65,000 snow geese which regularly fly out to feed in the farm fields just west of the site.

More recently, the Navy has been working with the states of North Carolina and Virginia to find an alternative site, including two possible locations in Gates County.

Last month, Butterfield wrote to Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter to express concerns about sites being considered in Gates and Camden counties. Butterfield said that while northeastern North Carolina would be asked to bear all the economic and quality-of-life burdens, Virginia Beach would enjoy all the benefits.

“The small number of new jobs associated with the OLF simply could not offset the shock to the lifestyle and viability of these communities,” Butterfield said.