Boat parade sends ‘No OLF’ message

Published 12:59 pm Saturday, June 13, 2009

WINTON – Perhaps as local residents, we take for granted the natural beauty of the Chowan River.

But what would happen if that eye-appealing waterway became inaccessible due to pollution? What if a serene day on the river was constantly interrupted by low flying military jets?

Could either of the aforementioned possibilities have an impact on the recreational tourism of the river? Could either impact possible real estate or business development along the banks of the Chowan? What about the impact on commercial fishing?

All of these are questions currently left unanswered by the possibility of the U.S. Navy building an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in the Sand Banks area of Gates County. Included in the OLF’s contour is 435 acres of the Chowan River.

On Saturday, Citizens Against OLF sponsored a boat parade on the river in an effort to heighten awareness to the beauty of this historic waterway. From small vessels to large pontoons, a flotilla of 25 boats made their way upstream from Shoup’s Landing. Most carried anti-OLF messages as the group made a collective statement about the importance the river has on the Gates and Hertford County area.

“We wanted to raise public awareness to the environmental concerns that an OLF will have on the Chowan River,” said Laura Dickerson, spokesperson for Citizens Against OLF.

T.C. and Debra Vaughan led the flotilla in their vintage fishing boat.

Along the way, local Gates County commercial fisherman Bud Eure said the OLF locating in the Sand Banks would negatively impact his way to make a living.

“We’d rather see the boats enjoying the water than the jets flying overhead,” Gates County Commissioner Wade Askew said.

Meanwhile, the Navy is moving forward in its plans to build an OLF. Other than Gates, the Navy is looking at sites in Camden County as well as a trio of Virginia locations – Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties.

A draft environmental impact study is due in August on each of the five sites.