U.S. House blocks OLF

Published 4:32 pm Friday, June 26, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – What started two years ago as a small cry from rural northeastern North Carolina is now echoing as a loud roar through the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

On Thursday, the United States House of Representatives approved legislation that bars construction of the Navy’s Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in northeastern North Carolina.

With the support of Reps. Walter Jones (R-Farmville) and G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson), the annual authorization bill for national defense, H.R. 2647, will prohibit the creation of an OLF at either the Hale’s Lake site in Camden County or the Sandbanks site in Gates County.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Judging from local and national reaction to this news, it’s apparent that Butterfield, who represents North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District (including Gates, Hertford, Bertie and Northampton counties), and Jones (3rd District) were listening to the overwhelming opposition of the OLF.

“The communities within Camden and Gates counties have made it very clear they do not want an OLF,” said Ken Willis who serves as Rep. Butterfield’s Communications Director.

Willis added that the language contained in the national defense authorization bill prohibits the Navy from building an OLF in either Camden or Gates County. He said that Rep. Jones first offered such an amendment during discussions about the defense bill within the House Armed Services Subcommittee. From there the measure went before the full Armed Services Committee where it gained approval to move to the House floor for a vote. That vote (289-22) took place on Thursday.

“Our voices have been heard all the way to Washington,” said Laura Dickerson of Gatesville, spokesperson for Citizens Against OLF. “We are thrilled that this measure has been approved by the House by an overwhelming margin and we hope it will do as well in the Senate. We are very thankful to Congressmen Jones and Butterfield for working so hard on this issue.”

The news was also welcomed within the halls of Gates County local government.

“Gates County is glad to see that the voices of our people were heard through the grass roots efforts of Citizens Against OLF,” Gates County Manager Toby Chappell noted. “We hope this pattern continues as this legislation moves from the House over to the Senate.”

Chappell said the quality of life in Gates County must be protected.

“This has been a quality of life issue all along,” Chappell stated. “We’re hopeful that our military communities understand our position in no way shows distain for our military. We’re concerned from a standpoint that an OLF will depreciate our quality of life in Gates County.”

In a press statement sent to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Congressman Jones said there is no state in this country that has done more to support the military than North Carolina.

“We love and appreciate our military,” Jones said in his remarks to the House Armed Services Committee. “We need to protect these two rural counties that will be devastated if one or the other is chosen.”

Camden County Manager Randell Woodruff commented, “This is a momentous day for the people of Eastern North Carolina in our battle to be heard on this issue. As the legislation moves forward, we want to thank our elected officials in Raleigh and Washington D.C. for their continued support and efforts to oppose an OLF in northeastern North Carolina.”

Thursday’s action in Washington was preceded by two months of a measure adopted by the North Carolina House of Representatives. In late April, the NC House, by a vote of 113-0, amended 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.”

Representatives Annie Mobley (D-Ahoskie) and Bill Owens (D-Elizabeth City) were the primary sponsors of that legislation, a measure later approved by the NC Senate.

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.