OLF issue hopefully winding down

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sometimes it pays to be a “pack rat”….especially when it comes to tracing the history of a particular issue.

When I penned the “U.S. Congress blocks OLF” story that was published in Saturday’s edition of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Wednesday’s Gates County Index, it got me wondering just how long I’ve been covering this issue.

While those banking on recent memory may answer that question by guessing 2007 – the year Gates County officials and citizens were notified they were on the U.S. Navy’s short list of five possible sites to construct its Outlying Landing Field (OLF) – you would be incorrect.

For me, this issue got my keyboard cranked-up in 2002. In early January of that year, Navy officials released a list of seven potential sites to construct an OLF, a practice field used for training pilots of the Navy’s new generation of F/A 18 Super Hornet strike fighter jets. One of those seven original sites was in the Midway-Merry Hill area of Bertie County – territory covered by this newspaper.

Between then and now, I’ve written 76 articles related to the OLF. I counted them through a search of my computer.

Hopefully, after what occurred in our nation’s capitol last week, I’m at the end of the line on this much-debated issue.

Thanks to the efforts of North Carolina Congressmen Walter Jones and G.K. Butterfield, the annual authorization bill for national defense, as approved Thursday of last week during a full vote on the House floor, will prohibit the creation of an OLF at either the Hale’s Lake site in Camden County or the Sandbanks site in Gates County.

If that piece of legislation clears the U.S. Senate – where it hopefully has the support of the North Carolina delegation of Kay Hagan and Richard Burr – we can bid farewell to the Navy and their plans for either Camden or Gates County.

If this scenario sounds all too familiar, it is. During the Navy’s first round of locating an OLF site, Washington County was chosen. The Navy was prepared to start breaking ground on that facility before the efforts of a grassroots group caught the attention of state and national elected leaders who used their collective political muscle to stop the process.

Thusly, the Navy went looking elsewhere, finding Gates and Camden locations to their liking, as well as three other spots in nearby southside Virginia.

Once again it was the grassroots efforts of local folks in Gates and Camden counties that eventually, thanks to finding allies in Raleigh and Washington, turned the powerful U.S. Navy away.

Since 2007, I have written 39 stories and produced a special edition dealing with the Gates County OLF issue, but my efforts pale in comparison of those standing on the front lines – the Citizens Against OLF group and Gates County local government officials. They have devoted hundreds of hours and miles in a collective effort to preserve the peaceful quality of life we enjoy here in rural northeastern North Carolina.

After two years engaged in this effort, it appears their battle may be over….if the U.S. Senate will do the right thing and tell the Navy to keep their noise and pollution in Virginia Beach.

I personally commend these average, ordinary citizens for stepping up to the plate and knocking the OLF out of the park.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.