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OLF bill clears committee

RALEIGH – The first hurdle has been cleared.

Earlier this week, the North Carolina House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that addresses the OLF (Outlying Landing Field) issue in Gates County.

As reported by Gates County Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan at Wednesday’s meeting of the board, the committee endorsed 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, by purchase, condemnation or otherwise, of land in the state for the purpose of establishing an outlying landing field in a county or counties which have no existing military base for the purpose of supporting and training of aircraft squadrons stationed at or transient to military bases or military stations located outside of the state.”

Jernigan said the bill will now make its way to the Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee. If approved there, the measure goes back to the House floor for a vote.

“People keep asking me what are we doing about keeping the OLF out of Gates County; well this is what we’re doing,” Jernigan said. “This is what is being done at the highest level of state government to keep the OLF out of Gates County.”

He continued, “I was there in Raleigh during the committee meeting on Tuesday. I was so pleased to hear that of the 25 committee members voting, no one objected to the wording of the bill.”

Jernigan said the bill effectively creates another hoop the Navy has to jump through.

“The Navy can still come here and make an offer to purchase our land, but with this bill the state of North Carolina can say no,” he said. “If the Navy wants to force the issue from there, the state attorney general can step in. He will defend the state and Gates County in this issue, and he will do that at no cost to Gates County.”

Jernigan added that State Senator Ed Jones has introduced similar legislation on his side of the NC General Assembly.

Late last month, 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.

“In short, what this bill does is gives the Navy another hurdle they must jump over,” Rep. Mobley said. “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 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.