Dickersons are Newsmakers of the Year

Published 8:17 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

Over 18 months have come and gone since the United States Navy announced its intentions to possibly site an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in Gates County. Armed to the hilt with facts, figures and data, the Navy has made repeated attempts to convince local leaders and the general public of the five areas where the practice facility may be built that an OLF is needed. To date, neither Daniel nor Laura Dickerson of Gatesville has bought into the Navy’s plans. And due to their efforts, there are thousands of everyday citizens, just like the Dickersons, who agree. And it’s not about, nor has it ever been, being anti-military. The Dickersons are as American as Mom, Apple Pie and Chevrolet. They support and are proud of the brave and women who wear the uniforms of all branches of the military. But when it comes to the simple fact that noise mitigation from crowded Virginia Beach neighborhoods may stand as the real reason for the Navy adding a second OLF to its program, the Dickersons feel they must draw that proverbial line in the sand. This husband-and-wife team has stood at the forefront of Gates County’s ongoing battle to keep the OLF at bay. They proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with their friends, neighbors and even total strangers to protect the simple, quiet way of life that so many northeastern North Carolina natives and transplants have come to enjoy over the years. They are the founders of Citizens Against OLF. They have organized, promoted and carried out several rallies in an effort to get others involved. Through an endless series of meetings with local, state and federal elected leaders, they have become the voice of the silent majority in this hotly-debated issue. The Dickersons are no strangers to the halls of the political process, visiting legislators in Raleigh and Washington. None of their efforts are to promote an individual agenda, but rather to present a united front of those in Gates County and northeastern North Carolina that oppose the Navy’s OLF plans. Combined with the efforts of the Citizens Against OLF group, the Dickersons have helped to generate materials that promote the cause – a letter from the State NAACP opposing the siting of an OLF in any community where it disproportionately impacts poor and minority families; copies of additional handwritten letters from Gates County residents opposing the OLF, a DVD with the No OLF movie, and copies of a paper petition and online petition, each containing well over 2,000 signatures. They have rallied some “heavy hitters” to the side of the Citizens Against OLF. One in particular was the Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, a group that studied the environmental impacts of the Sandbanks OLF Site and prepared their own Environmental Impact Statement. They have lobbied and received support from other powerful groups as well as nature and wildlife organizations, all in an effort to protect and preserve Gates County’s most valuable resource – its beautiful land and natural environment, one that includes the scenic Chowan River. Dr. Daniel Dickerson, Assistant Professor of Science Education at Old Dominion University, researched and presented a lengthy report concerning the human health and environmental issues linked to jet fuel emissions. Continuing their efforts, the Dickersons assisted Citizens Against OLF in retaining the services of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice as the organization’s legal counsel. To this day, the Dickersons remain diligent in asking citizens to continue to write letters of OLF opposition to state and federal officials. That effort has reaped dividends as Congressman G.K. Butterfield and U.S. Senator Kay Hagan have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the Navy constructing an OLF in northeastern North Carolina. On the state level, Representatives Annie Mobley and Bill Owens along with Senators Ed Jones and Marc Basnight are opposed to the Navy’s plans. In May of last year, the Dickersons assisted in organizing a huge turnout of local citizens at one of the Navy’s Scoping meetings on the OLF project. Over 700 were in attendance at a meeting held at Gates County High School. The Dickersons have also rallied to the plight of numerous century-old farms in Gates County as well as to those who work that land. According to a summary of factors evaluated for the proposed OLF site, 248 homes at or near the Sandbanks site would be affected. Residents of nine of those homes would be mandated to leave their residences due to falling within an area containing a minimum 75 decibel noise level. The remaining residents would live within an area of 60-to-70 decibel noise level. They have the option to put up with the noise or move. Throughout the process, there remains one clear message…building an OLF in a rural, economically distressed county would mean a drastic reduction in economic benefits and that any future for prosperity is destroyed for generations to come. And if there is one rallying cry from the Dickersons, it’s that Gates County is not for sale. “We know there is no incentive worth what would be lost. Our way of life, our neighbors, our health and our children’s future – these are all priceless,” Laura Dickerson said in one of the numerous newspaper articles published last year. The Dickersons are the parents of three children – Cole (7), Ashby (6) and Jonah (3). Congratulations to Daniel and Laura Dickerson – the unanimous choice for the 2008 Newsmaker of the Year as selected by Roanoke-Chowan Publications. For more information about the OLF, visit www.citizensagainstolf.com.