OLF foes seek solutions

Published 2:15 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bleary-eyed leaders fighting the placement of a military outlying landing field at the border of Beaufort County trickled into a breakfast meeting just after 7 a.m. Wednesday.
They were a long way from home, though – in a hotel outside the District of Columbia.
Yet the room filled with OLF foes from the Pamlico River area – Realtors, elected officials, homeowner's association members, all lobbyists for the day.
About 40 of them made the trip, a couple on behalf of the county and the City of Washington.
During the meeting, those guiding the effort attempted to streamline phrases they would deliver to some among North Carolina's congressional delegation.
Their goal: Asking the state's elected leaders in D.C. to help ward off air, water pollution, noise and the further degradation of the tax base that they say an OLF would bring to Beaufort County.
On the trip up, some had said a day in the nation's capital was their last, best hope for keeping the OLF away from Beaufort County.
The right words
Much of the anti-OLF group's breakfast meeting was taken up with choosing words carefully.
The meeting opened with an impromptu rehearsal by those making the group's presentation, followed by a critique.
During the critique, Roger Cannady, a member of Citizens Opposing Outlying Landing Sites, or COOLS, asked Mary Ellen Tyrrell, COOLS' legislative chairwoman, to strike the words "we will open it up for questions."
"It's their meeting," Cannady said, offering "we will answer your questions" as a substitute.
Ashley Stephenson, who has campaigned for U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., requested that the speakers ask the pro-defense-spending congressman to "protect" Beaufort County, not "support," a word that might not ring true to Jones.
Others touched on broader issues.
The group should leave open for discussion the Navy's option to put an OLF in the Croatan National Forest, said Washington Park Mayor Tom Richter, on hand representing the Beaufort County Mayors Association.
A show of hands quickly excluded mention of the forest.
Jim Blanton, who serves on the investment committee of the Washington, N.C.-based Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, urged emphasis on how an OLF would affect a disproportionately minority population.
A group conversation with an attorney indicated that the group needed "to play this minority card," Cannady added.
"If you look around, how many black faces do you see in here?" he asked.
There were none.
James M. Rees, director of field services for the East Carolina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said he would not "use that card."
"They hear it all the time," Rees said, speaking of congressmen and senators.
Tyrrell countered by saying some couldn't afford to be there, but, "Whether they're here actively or not, we have to represent those interests."
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson seemed to agree.
"The minority thing plays in Washington, D.C.," Richardson said. "You're in the right place to play that card."
The road ahead
Honesty was the order of the day.
"Don't go in demanding," advised Tom Thompson, Beaufort County's economic developer. "Don't show the tiniest bit of arrogance."
Straightforward – but then, he has done this before.
Thompson was on a base closing and realignment committee in 1989, while working as Craven County's economic developer.
The county defended against the countermeasures of civilian workers in Pensacola, Fla., said Thompson, who was the "principal author" of a pro-Craven County presentation to lawmakers.
"We're not going to win on the facts because the facts are too many," Thompson told the crowd. "We need to leave them in tears."
On a bus ride the evening before, Thompson had stated things just as bluntly.
The anti-OLF group, led by COOLS, was set to meet with Sens. John Edwards and Elizabeth Dole and Reps. Jones and Frank Ballance Jr.
When asked what the group should accomplish during those meetings, Beaufort County's economic developer hadn't minced words.
"I think we've got an uphill battle," Thompson had said.
The only critical member probably was Dole because of the well-connected freshman senator's position on the Armed Services Committee, Thompson had related.
The Republicans have clout now, he had said. Edwards is a presidential candidate, so the Bush administration might not be interested in what he has to say.
However, Dole "has a tremendous amount of leverage here." She can influence the secretary of the Navy, whose office will decide where to put the OLF, and the president (who endorsed Dole and made campaign appearances on her behalf in North Carolina).
Dole can push for the parallel runway option outlined in the Navy's own draft environmental impact statement, Thompson had said. (That option would keep the OLF and its effects away from Beaufort County.)
The senator should understand that this is "a fairness issue," according to Thompson; an issue about the exportation of noise and pollution from Virginia to an area that gets little or no economic benefit from the basing of jets tied to the Navy's OLF proposals.
Jones, an Armed Services Committee member for the House, recently was appointed to two subcommittees, one of which deals with military readiness.
Jones is "a friend to the area," Thompson had said, but Craven County is part of the congressman's district.
And Craven County wants the jets and the OLF.
"We have to be realists," Thompson had commented on the bus, as it sped toward the U.S. capital. "Craven County has two votes to our one vote."
Sunday: Official responses.
Jonathan Clayborne may be reached by telephone at 940-4213 or via e-mail at jonathan@wdnweb.com.