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Navy OLF has Sand Banks competition

GATESVILLE – OLF vs. BSA.

It appears that another nationally recognized organization is interested in the Sand Banks area of Gates County. At their meeting here Monday morning, the Gates County Board of Commissioners listened to the particulars of a plan by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to build a permanent home for their National Jamboree and other activities conducted by this organization that boasts a membership exceeding 4.6 million.

Gates County figures prominently into the BSA plans as one of the 11 national finalists to become the home for the National Jamboree.

In order to further stake their claim, the commissioners on Monday approved sending letters to U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-1st District), U.S. Senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Richard Burr (R-NC), State Senator Ed Jones (D-4th District) and State Representative Annie Mobley (D-5th District) asking for their collective support to steer the BSA Gates County’s way.

“This is a one in a million chance for our county and region,” the commissioners’ letter read. “We ask that you support us by writing a letter to the Boy Scouts of America, letting them know how happy your constituents would be to host their Jamboree permanently.”

Monday’s action came on the heels of a Friday visit to the county by U.S. Navy officials as they are continuing in their effort to construct an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) at one of five locations, including the Sand Banks. Friday’s visit was to gain information from local government officials as well as other public entities that serve Gates County.

“The Navy was none too pleased to learn that the Boy Scouts are also looking at the Sand Banks,” Gates County Planning and Development Director Randy Cahoon told the Gates County Index following Monday’s meeting. “The way we see it, the Boy Scouts have up to $250 million they are ready to spend immediately for this project. Meanwhile, the Navy says it might take up to 36 months for them to decide where to build their OLF. I think having a bird in hand surely beats 20 in the bush.”

The commissioners wholeheartedly agree, citing that the BSA project, with a capital investment of $100 million just for the property, would be an “incredible economic boost that would set a healthy course for the future of the region by providing responsible development.”

“The investment by the Boy Scouts will more than outweigh the loss we will experience through property taxes since that organization is non-profit,” Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan said. “The people involved in Boy Scouts will need a place to sleep, to eat and buy gas at the site that is eventually selected. We can be that site.”

Cahoon said the BSA is seeking 5,000 acres with water access. The site also needs to be “all-weather” accessible. The BSA proposal also includes a need for high-speed Internet and natural gas access as well as for the site to be within 50 miles of a divided, four-lane highway, within 150 miles of an international airport and have both a state park and national wildlife refuge within close driving distance.

“We already have all those things,” Cahoon said.

The selected site will become the home of a museum, visitor’s center and a high-adventure center. It will need access to horse trails, hiking trails and paddle trails, all of which are already in Gates County.

As part of the proposal, three hotels will be built on site as well as a wastewater treatment plant and an urgent care facility. The site is so large that it will need its own police/security department.

As far as jobs are concerned, the site will need 85-to-100 permanent employees.

“This site has the potential to become a town within itself,” Cahoon noted, adding that 200,000 Boy Scouts and their guests (400,000 during Jamboree years) would use the facility annually.

Cahoon said that county officials are working closely with the Northeastern North Carolina Commission on this project.

The 5,000 acres needed in the Sand Banks is currently owned by International Paper. Cahoon said he had already spoken with IP officials and they are willing to sell the property to BSA.

“They told me they were not interested in selling it to the Navy (for the OLF), but are interested if the Boy Scouts plan falls our way,” Cahoon said.

Cahoon is also working with Roanoke Electric, Dominion Power, Piedmont Natural Gas, Embarq, the Nature Conservancy and the NC Department of Commerce to remove any roadblocks that may harm Gates County’s chances of landing this project.

The project’s timetable is short n site selection by December of this year and the land purchased by January 2009. Construction would begin in the spring of 2009 with completion by January 2013.

“We have a motivated five-member board of commissioners that are behind this project 100 percent,” Cahoon concluded. “We can get this done.”