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Nature Conservancy clarifies OLF role

GATESVILLE – Inaccurate….that one word put a smile on the faces of those opposing the Navy’s plans to site an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in Gates County.

Additionally, local OLF opponents were pleased to learn that the headcount at the May 2 Scoping meeting at Gates County High School had the highest attendance of any of the seven total gatherings hosted by the U.S. Navy.

Last month, the Tidewater News of Franklin, Va. published an article (“Admiral: OLF choice will get a rosy deal”) in which Navy Rear Admiral David Anderson was quoted as saying, “The Nature Conservancy is interested in the possibility of reintroducing longleaf pines on land it owns adjacent to the proposed Sand Banks site (an area of Gates County currently under consideration for the OLF).”

Apparently, that statement did not please either the OLF opponents in Gates County or the Nature Conservancy. In response, the Nature Conservancy posted a letter on its website on April 24. In the letter, The Nature Conservancy wrote “Admiral Anderson’s comments may have conveyed the impression that the Nature Conservancy views an OLF at the Sand Banks site n or any of the other four proposed locations n as a positive conservation opportunity.

That impression is inaccurate.”

The Nature Conservancy is taking a hard look at the proposed sites to determine if an OLF would negatively affect natural resources in either North Carolina or Virginia.

The North Carolina Chapter of the Nature Conservancy spoke with the Navy soon after the proposed OLF sites were announced to share some initial concerns regarding the Sand Banks site.

“That conversation in no way represents an endorsement of, or support for, any of the OLF sites,” Nature Conservancy officials Michael Lipford and Katherine D. Skinner wrote in the letter.

They continued by saying the Nature Conservancy’s mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

“Some of our conservation projects are near or adjacent to several of the now-proposed OLF sites,” the letter read. “Given our large investment to protect those important natural areas, we will closely scrutinize the proposed sites to ensure that an OLF does not jeopardize our common natural heritage.”

“We are thrilled that the Nature Conservancy has publicly stated they are not working with the Navy to promote the Sand Banks site,” said Linda Warren, a Sand Banks resident. “We know there is much to conserve at the Sand Banks site, including the vast amount of wetlands and the 435 acres of the Chowan River included in the site. We are glad the Nature Conservancy is standing behind their mission to ‘conserve important natural areas throughout the world’ as the Sand Banks site is certainly an important natural area.”

According to the letter, the Nature Conservancy will be submitting comments to the Navy as part of the EIS scoping process to request that the environmental review address issues that are of concern to the Conservancy.

Meanwhile, the “numbers” game in reference to the attendance at each of the seven OLF Scoping meetings revealed that Gates County was the winner.

According to the figures released by U.S. Navy/Atlantic Fleet Command spokesman Ted Brown, 671 individuals were documented as attendees at the Gates County Scoping meeting. That figure was over 200 higher than Southampton County (Va.) where 462 were registered, placing it second on the list.

Brown stated that the Tidewater News erroneously quoted him indirectly as saying that Southampton County had the highest number of attendees. He added that the numbers he reported to the Tidewater News in regards to the Gates County Scoping meeting attendance was left completely out of the story.

The following are the counts for each Scoping meeting:

Currituck County – 242

Prince George County – 252

Sussex County – 320

Southampton County – 462

Gates County – 671

Camden County – 392

Surry County n 315

At each of the Scoping meetings, the public had an opportunity to ask specific questions covering topics such as aircraft noise and safety, layout and operation of an OLF, partnering with the community, developing site alternatives and proposed action, purpose and need.

At the Gates County meeting, the overwhelming consensus among with public was opposition to the placement of the OLF, a public sentiment that has not wavered since the outset of the process months ago.

In addition to asking questions of the Navy personnel present at the meeting, citizens were also given the chance to complete a comment sheet or enter comments directly into the Navy’s database at computer stations. A website, www.olfeis.com, is also available for citizens who were unable to attend to review the same materials that were presented at the meeting. Concerned citizens are also able to enter written comments electronically via the website. However, all comments must be received electronically by the Navy by June 7 to be considered for the draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Navy will produce as a result of the meeting.