OLF bill filed

Published 8:19 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

Throughout the ongoing battle to prevent the Navy from building an Outlying Landing Field in Gates or Camden County, local officials have been advised that politics would play a major role in the issue.

That advice now appears to be gaining steam.

Earlier this week, two members of the North Carolina House Representatives, Annie Mobley of Ahoskie and Bill Owens of Elizabeth City, signed on as primary sponsors of House Bill 613. That legislation amends the state’s Federal Reservation Statute to read that “the consent of the state is not granted to the United States for acquisition of land for an outlying landing field in a county or counties which have no existing military base at which aircraft squadrons are stationed.”

“Basically, this legislation sets in motion an action that causes the Navy to first gain permission from the state of North Carolina before they purchase any property for the purpose of building an OLF,” said Representative Mobley, whose 5th NC House District includes Gates County, one of five locations the Navy is looking at for its OLF. “And that property must be located in an area where a branch of the military currently has an aircraft operation.”

She continued, “In short, what this bill does is gives the Navy another hurdle they must jump through. Not that it will deter them any, but maybe this will force the Navy to keep their noise in Virginia rather than dumping it on us.”

The bill, filed on Monday, passed its first reading before the House of Representatives on Tuesday. It was then referred to the Committee on Judiciary I, of which Mobley is a member.

“We will put this on our Judiciary schedule and study it closely from a legal standpoint,” Mobley said.

If the Judiciary Committee favors the bill, it will be passed on to Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs committees for additional review before heading back to the House floor for a vote.

The news of the bill was greeted with elation by a citizen group opposing the OLF.

“This really helps our efforts,” said Laura Dickerson of Gatesville, one of the founders of Citizens Against OLF. “We hope this measure is approved by the House and Senate.”

The pending legislation is exactly what Roper Mayor Bunny Sanders referenced during her February visit to Gates County.

Sanders, who helped lead an anti-OLF effort in Washington County that forced the Navy to look elsewhere, told an audience gathered Feb. 7 at Stoney Branch Missionary Baptist Church in Gates County that, “this battle will not play out in court, it is a political issue.”

The Navy is seeking to build an OLF, a military aircraft practice facility, in either Gates or Camden County. Three other possible OLF sites are in Virginia, one each in Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties.