Navy burns the midnight oil

Published 6:53 pm Friday, April 6, 2007

By Staff
Last local OLF hearing comes to Plymouth
News Editor
PLYMOUTH — When Roper Mayor Estelle “Bunny” Sanders stepped to the lectern during Wednesday night’s outlying landing field hearing, she appeared very slight compared to the panel of Navy leaders she addressed.
Sanders, barely more than 5 feet tall, made it clear that she and fellow opponents of an OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties know they are engaged in what she called a “David and Goliath” battle. And she made it just as clear that they are not intimidated.
The final local hearing on the latest OLF impact study was held at the Vernon James Research and Extension Center in Plymouth, near Site C. The hearing lasted more than five hours, running until just after midnight Thursday morning.
The Navy contends the OLF is vital for training pilots at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock. Opponents contend northeastern North Carolina was picked to pacify deep-pocketed Virginians with more political pull.
Sanders was answered with a loud, unified chorus of amens from both inside the center and the tent set up outside to accommodate the hundreds of people awaiting their turns to speak.
Among those waiting to take turns were many who would lose homes, farmland or both to the Navy’s 34,000-acre project. Most of the land is in Washington County, with about 5,000 acres belonging to Beaufort County.
Billie Carol Askew and her husband Larry stand to lose thousands of acres that are to be their children’s inheritance, she said.
Throughout the night, speakers charged that this area was “the dumping ground for Virginia Beach” residents who were tired of jet noise.
Rear Adm. David Anderson said the OLF is necessary primarily for training purposes when he spoke at a Navy-called press conference at Cherry Point in February.
“This is much more than a noise-mitigation issue,” he said then.
But Plymouth Mayor Brian Roth, a former military pilot, said pressing forward at Site C is a matter of ego.
Some speakers called for closer consideration of Open Grounds Farm in Carteret County.
Farmer Dennis Bowen, who drove in a parade of farm equipment that crawled its way to the center earlier in the day Wednesday, asked the Navy to change course.
Hundreds attend despite lack of space
Staff Writer
PLYMOUTH – With less than 300 seats available at the Navy’s sixth public hearing on the proposed outlying landing field, hundreds of other attendees had to wait outside.
Members of North Carolinians Opposed to the Outlying Landing Field anticipated the crowd. In the shadow of what one farmer guessed to be $6 million dollars of farm equipment, NO-OLF erected a tent to seat 300 people, supplied hot dogs, barbecue sandwiches and entertainment — out of members’ own pocket.
In camping chairs, leaning against walls and sitting on the ground, those that couldn’t find seats inside the Vernon James Research and Extension Center sat attentively while listening to the public comment — piped outside by a lone speaker.
But comments on the Navy’s plan to acquire 30,000 acres for a pilot practice field in Washington and Beaufort counties were not limited to the formal hearing. After making comments on the record inside, North Carolina NAACP President William Barber addressed the outdoor assembly.
Black or white, farmer or fisherman, Barber said that the OLF issue is one that crosses racial and social lines and that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposes the field.
A Trailways bus made the trip from Raleigh carrying 45 people — members of the Raleigh Audubon Society chapter— who said they come to support the people upon which those termed “injustices” were being committed.
Lena Gallatano, who organized the bus trip, has been involved in NO-OLF for almost four years, she said. That the Navy’s preferred Site C is less than five miles from Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife refuge, a wintering spot for thousands of waterfowl, concerns her as a “avid bird watcher.”
When the outdoors gathering had finally dispersed — some chased away by a dust devil of pollen — 200 people were still inside the center at 11 p.m.