Speakers: OLF not just an ‘eastern N.C. problem’

Published 9:07 pm Thursday, April 19, 2007

By Staff
Voices in Queen City oppose Navy site
News Editor
John Mackay
president and CEO ofCharlotte’s Discovery Place
CHARLOTTE— An outlying landing field in the state is “not just an eastern North Carolina problem,” speakers at the Navy’s last scheduled public hearing on the matter said Tuesday night.
The hearing, set up at the request of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., was held in a ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center. The hearing attracted about 400 people, but Dole did not attend. At least one member of her staff was scheduled to be there, according to a Dole spokeswoman.
In a departure from previous public hearings on the subject, many of Tuesday’s speakers were not stakeholders from one of the Navy’s potential OLF sites. But their message was one that has been echoed again and again during the last several weeks — and it was a message of opposition.
As each speaker took a turn at the microphone, he or she voiced concerns the Navy has heard from Perquimans County to Plymouth and all points in between — worries about pilots, farmers and waterfowl.
Some residents spoke against building an OLF at any of the five proposed sites in the state. The Navy considered several as potential places to train military pilots from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, favoring Site C on the border of rural Washington and Beaufort counties.
That’s a feeling that Wanda Stotesbury understands.
Her family’s Site C land is at stake. That’s why she hauled a mock F/A-18 Super Hornet all the way from Wenona to the Queen City, trailing behind a bus load of her fellow Site C residents. Stotesbury’s husband Kenny built the homemade jet four years ago.
Time and again, Tuesday’s speakers decried the danger of placing an OLF near Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, which is about four miles from Site C.
Waterfowl rehabilitator Jennifer Gordon said she “will not stand by helplessly and watch” the Navy go forward with a plan for Site C. It’s detrimental, she said.
John Mackay, president and chief executive officer of Charlotte’s Discovery Place, asked the Navy to preserve the land near the refuge for the good of the state.
Site C landowner Maurice Manning referred to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible when he spoke.
Waiting for the bus Tuesday night — the bus that would return him and fellow travelers to Beaufort County just before 5 a.m. Wednesday — Bath resident Roy Armstrong acknowledged that the messages delivered Tuesday weren’t new ones.