Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- OLF: New Targets - Same Issues

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Believe it or not, there are some who suggest that opposing an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in northeastern North Carolina is equivalent to being anti-military. It’s an absurd supposition.

Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter recently announced a narrowed list of three Virginia and two North Carolina sites being considered for an OLF to support the Master Jet Base, Naval Air Station Oceana, at Virginia Beach. Southampton, Surry, and Sussex counties in Virginia are being considered. So are Sandbanks in Gates County and the Hales Lake area in the Camden/Currituck section of North Carolina.

Earlier this year the Navy removed from further consideration five locations originally targeted for an OLF. Those sites were located in small, rural and relatively poor northeastern counties: Craven, Bertie, Hyde, Perquimans and Washington.

With few financial resources and little but grit and determination, these rural North Carolinians persuaded politicians in Washington D.C., and some in Raleigh, that preserving their way of life was critical. The economic justifications for an OLF in northeastern North Carolina weren’t there. They still aren’t.

These patriots stood tall, holding their ground against formidable odds. With all due respect to the Navy, their original site selection plan was flawed. The Navy also seemed to lose site of the “carrot-and- stick” philosophy of economics. Had they offered financial incentives, there might have been enough support in one or two counties to merit their further consideration of an OLF.

So after 10 years, the Navy now finds itself back at square one with five new sites in their cross hairs. We’ll soon find out if the Navy learned anything from its initial foray into northeastern North Carolina. Economic incentives may be the balm needed for the Navy to seal the deal this time around.

One thing is certain. The people here have learned a great deal about themselves and their region and it has nothing to do with patriotism or a lack thereof. In fact, if this region held the only available site that could logistically support an OLF, the people would be willing to sacrifice for the needs of their country. Virginia is receiving the bulk of economic benefits from The Navy’s facility at Oceana and the folks here discovered there were plenty of options for locating an OLF there.

At the state’s Republican State Convention last year, a resolution opposing an OLF in northeastern North Carolina was presented by the chairman of the counties being targeted for an OLF by the Navy. The resolution passed overwhelmingly. There was empathy and support from not only those eastern counties, but western counties and the Piedmont as well. Republican U.S. Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr announced soon afterward that they, too, would oppose an OLF unless there was broad-based support from the residents of the counties affected.

Democratic Reps. Butterfield and Price also argued against locating an OLF in Washington County and were instrumental too in that site not being chosen.

Had the grass-roots community efforts not been there from the very beginning the politicians likely would have quietly, albeit unwittingly, gone along with the Navy. We may never hear the names of the local people who battled proverbial city hall – and won. Yet their efforts are revealed in the reams of paper documenting their findings. This volunteer army developed Web sites to share detailed information. As a result, many more joined the cause. In the end, a potential environmental and economic meltdown to one of the poorest areas in America was averted.

Northeastern North Carolina has become a destination point for retirees and others who want to escape the hustle and bustle, and the noise and pollution that accompany a more urban existence. Recognizing this, leaders in northeastern North Carolina have been marketing their counties in a way that will capitalize on what God has so richly bestowed on them – rich and fertile farmlands, meandering scenic waterways, quaint historic villages and towns, and patriotic, God-loving people.

I recently heard Dole speak at a dedication of new fire equipment in Hertford. During her remarks, she reiterated that she would oppose an OLF in any area in the northeastern part of the state where the majority of its people opposed it. Burr’s office later stated he also whole-heartedly concurred.

In Hertford, Dole humbly asked for everyone to pray for guidance in decisions she and others in Congress may face in the future that were “beyond human wisdom and will have a large impact on all of us for generations to come.”

Some may view opposing an OLF as not rising to the level of decision Senator Dole was referring to when asking for our prayers. But don’t tell that to the folks who live in Gates, Camden and Currituck counties.

It is good news for the First District that Bertie, Perquimans and Washington Counties, especially the favored location in Washington, have been dropped. Locating the OLF in these 3 counties is definitely not needed or in the interest of our nation. The entire North Carolina Republican delegation to congress is opposed to the OLF locations in Gates and Camden Counties too.

I will do anything that I can to assure that Gates County is dropped from the list as soon as possible.


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