Farmers put faces with OLF debate

Published 6:39 pm Thursday, April 5, 2007

By Staff
Convoy to send message to Navy
Daily News Staff
PLYMOUTH — For farmer Dennis Bowen, the impact of the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field in eastern North Carolina is about far more than birds.
That’s why he spent part of Wednesday afternoon driving his cotton picker along U.S. Highway 64 in Plymouth.
His wife, Jennie, and their 9-year-old daughter, Jessalyn, were in a tractor just ahead of the cotton picker. The Bowens and their machines were part of a convoy of at least 30 pieces of farm equipment that made the five-mile trek from a pizza restaurant in Plymouth to the Vernon James Research and Extension Center east of Plymouth.
They wanted to show one thing: An OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties will adversely affect farming families. They worry that message is sometimes lost as environmental advocates focus on the fate of thousands of migratory waterfowl that winter at the nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Bowen farms 100 acres that have been in his family for three generations. Depending on the season, he grows corn, cotton or soybeans. The land that he tills is in the southwest portion of Site C, the Navy’s hoped-for spot to train military pilots from Virginia Beach, Va., and Havelock.
Larry Askew owns 9,500 acres of that dot. He lives less than three miles east of Site C. From where he lives, Askew would have to drive through the OLF to get to his farmland. A Vietnam veteran who has farmed his piece of Washington County since the 1970s, Askew shook his head at the thought of Navy planes flying over his farm day and night.
Askew rode to the rally in a $145,000 tractor, one of several that he uses to cultivate corn and wheat on land that he says is “like family.”
Former Beaufort County Commissioner Carolyn Harding spoke at the OLF hearing Tuesday night in Beaufort County, but she ran out of time.
And she was.
As for Askew, the Bowens and other families who depend on land at Site C for their livelihoods, they believe no one knows or understands Harding’s words better than they do.