OLF information offered

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 25, 2008

GATESVILLE – Real faces, real names and real stories were brought to life at the Gates County Courthouse last Thursday.

Up until then, the issue of the Navy’s proposal to build an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) was through maps and public hearings. Now with the Navy narrowing its list of possible sites to five, including the Sand Banks area of Gates County, the issue is complete with an issue of urgency.

Two OLF information sessions were held at the courthouse (one morning; one evening) and the standing room only crowds were able to see how the proposed OLF would negatively affect the residents of Gates County.

A DVD movie, created by the Citizens Against OLF organization, was shown featuring several families that reside in the Sand Banks and Boonetown communities. The emotionally moving presentation told the stories of families that worked and lived on tracts of land for generations.

According to a map supplied at the meeting, the Sand Banks OLF site (the airfield core area) is located between Tinkham Road and Gatlington Road.

However, the buffer zone around the airfield encompasses a much broader area, including US 13 from Powell Road to north of Tarheel Barbecue; Smith Road, Saunders Road, Gatlington Road, Byrum Road, Boonetown Road and Sand Banks Road.

The buffer zone also extends to the Chowan River. Across that body of water is major residential development near Winton.

Betty Jo Sheppard, Eastern Field Representative from Senator Richard Burr’s office, attended the informational session and addressed the crowd.

“Senator Burr is very, very concerned,” she said. “We want to be at as many of these events as we can. The Senator wants to know exactly what people are thinking.”

In the days leading up to the event, Sheppard toured the affected site, along with the Senate’s military representative. Sheppard also toured the site in Camden County that remains on the short list for the proposed landing field.

Kathy Hartkopf, Legislative Liaison representing the Freedom Works organization, was also in attendance and encouraged the crowd to not stop fighting the proposed site. Freedom Works assisted Washington County organizers in getting that location off the short list of OLF sites.

Freedom Works is a Washington DC-based organization that advocates less government, lower taxes and more freedom. Along those lines, Hartkopf said that Freedom Works opposes the location of the OLF in Gates County based on three main issues. Freedom Works hopes to prevent the OLF based on property rights, decline of the county’s tax base and based on principal.

“No power on earth has the right to take your property” Hartkopf told the crowd. “We would fight the theory of eminent domain and there is no justification for that type of treatment (by the government).”

Hartkopf said the economic impact of the OLF would be long-lasting. Because a significant area of land would be taken from the tax base of the county, there would be no option but to raise taxes. Not only would the economy of the county be hurt, citizens’ cost of living would increase and citizens’ ability to make a living would be hurt.

Hartkopf concluded by offering the crowd advice to keep the Navy from locating the OLF in the county.

“Keep showing up. Let them know we’re here and not going away,” she suggested.

Gates County officials learned last year about the OLF possibly being located in the county. The Navy’s original plans also included the Sandy Cross area of the county, but that site is no longer being evaluated.

Since coming to the forefront, the OLF issue has sparked huge opposition within the county.