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Slaying a new ‘Goliath’

GATES – As Gates County continues to battle plans by the Navy to build an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in the Sand Banks area, those in opposition were offered some key advice here Saturday morning.

At a meeting hosted by Stoney Branch Missionary Baptist Church, Roper Mayor Bunny Sanders and North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber II spoke to a crowd of 100 in regards to the OLF battle.

The meeting was arranged by the Citizens Against OLF, a group organized in 2007 after the Navy announced that Gates County was on a list of five possible OLF sites.

It was Sanders who helped lead a fight in her native Washington County where the Navy first wanted to build its OLF.

“They picked us because we were in the middle of nowhere,” Sanders said. “They associated our poverty with weakness. They didn’t think we had the audacity to challenge them, much less beat them.”

She said Gates County citizens are now in the Navy’s crosshairs. She blamed overdevelopment in Virginia Beach, the site of the Navy’s current OLF, as the reason the Navy is looking elsewhere.

“They complain about the noise (in Va. Beach), but continue to develop,” she said. “The Navy has said the issue is about mitigating noise. They’ve said nothing about the need for an OLF.”

Sanders continued, “Nothing has changed today…they want to dump the noise in North Carolina and keep the financial benefits in Virginia.”

The mayor claimed that the Navy was not truthful with officials in her town and county.

“The Navy will lie; they will deceive,” she said. “They don’t fight fair.”

Sanders urged Gates County citizens to remain diligent during their fight.

“This isn’t just about the exact place the Navy is looking at in your county; everyone in Gates County will experience noise and pollution,” she noted. “You need to stand united. You need to expect the Navy to question your patriotism. But what you need to know the most is that eastern North Carolina should not make sacrifices for an OLF that is not needed.”

Sanders added that this battle will not play out in court, but it was rather a political issue.

“God didn’t fail us in our battle,” she remarked. “Sure, we had powerful lawyers on our side, but they just gave (Congressman) G.K. Butterfield the time to take the stone and kill our Goliath.”

Sanders offered suggestions of how Gates County citizens should proceed at this point of their battle. She said the citizens should solicit resolutions from the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate that oppose the OLF plans in Gates County.

“You can’t beat the Navy alone, but through God you can,” she concluded. “Keep the faith. The battle is the Lord’s, but the victory will be yours.”

Dr. Barber also touched upon the economic picture in Gates County as one of the reasons it was targeted by the Navy.

“This is about powerful forces thinking they can push around the poor,” he noted. “They look at the rural nature of Gates County. They look at rural northeastern North Carolina as the black belt.”

Dr. Barber then addressed the health issues that may be linked with having an OLF nearby.

“This is about noise decibels, a health issue,” he said. “This is about air pollution, another health issue. Neither is confined to where the practice strip will be.”

Additionally, he said agricultural losses from an OLF could cripple Gates County.

“To the farmers of this county, where will you sell your products if this pollution gets on your crops,” he asked.

Dr. Barber reminded those in attendance that these health and financial issues may not affect those over 45 years of age, but will leave a lasting impact on future generations.

Following Sanders’ lead, Dr. Barber made his suggestions to the OLF opponents.

“Get the people together that you elected and ask them to stand unified over this,” he stated. “While you’re at it, get your church pastors unified. Call on (US) Senator Kay Hagen and Governor Bev Perdue to come here and take a stand with you. Pack the (Navy’s) public hearings on this issue. Don’t go there to fuss; be prepared on what to say.”

In closing, Dr. Barber promised that the NAACP would stand with Gates County in its OLF opposition, just as it did in Washington County.

“You’ve got to believe that small stones anointed by God can knock down the biggest Goliath,” he concluded.

District 4 State Senator Ed Jones also promised his help, saying, “we will continue this fight until the Navy goes away.”

Following the meeting, Laura Dickerson, one of the organizers of Citizens Against OLF, said she was pleased with the turnout as well as the comments.

“It was such a boost to our spirits to hear words of encouragement from those who successfully fought the OLF battle down at Site C (Washington County),” Dickerson said. “Their advice and experiences will guide us as we strive to preserve our community.”