Wenona ‘mayor’ still vigilant in fight with Navy

Published 2:35 am Monday, January 28, 2008

By Staff
Recalls eight years of collective opposition to the OLF
Staff Writer
WENONA — Wanda Stotesbury can stand in her driveway and point to the homes of just about every member of her family. For eight years, she’s been fighting to keep it that way.
She and her family’s land is located about a mile east of the core area of the area the Navy formerly preferred for an outlying landing field in North Carolina. The sign marking the Wenona community, almost completely populated by Stotesbury’s family, is in her front yard. Next to it is a historical marker describing the area as the “Land of Tall Corn.”
To build an OLF, the Navy was willing to sacrifice the quiet, family oriented life in Wenona for “a bunch of condos at Virginia Beach,” Stotesbury’s sister, Teresa Norman said Sunday.
In 2000, Stotesbury became aware that if the pilot-practice field were built a mile west of her home , she stood to lose everything. Her land in southern Washington County would be consumed in the 30,000 acre buyout necessary for the Navy to build the OLF.
The proposed OLF site in Washington and Beaufort counties, near which Stotesbury lives, also called Site C, was first chosen as the Navy’s preferred site in 2002. Each time the Navy approached Wenona residents about purchasing or condemning their land for the field, Stotesbury headed them off, earning herself the office on “unofficial Mayor.” But she was not alone in her opposition to the Navy’s proposal.
North Carolinians Opposing the Outlying Landing Field, a grassroots opposition group with its focus in Washington and Beaufort counties, held its first rally in a barn near Stotesbury’s house in 2003. The group sued the Navy and won a court battle which sent the Pentagon back to the drawing board with its environmental study of the sites. Last February, the Navy again announced it would prefer to build at Site C.
Through two series of public hearings across North Carolina, one following each of the Navy’s environmental studies, Stotesbury and fellow NO OLF members refused to give up the fight.
And Stotesbury, her husband, Kenny, and Norman, are responsible for one of the most recognizable symbols of the group’s opposition to the OLF — two model jets made of welded-together 55-gallon oil drums.
Named Wenona 1 and 2 after the small community where Stotesbury lives, the jets have traveled to nearly every NO OLF rally and public hearing in North Carolina. They have been pulled down Main Street in parades in almost every town in eastern North Carolina that stood to be affected by the OLF and have traveled as far as Charlotte and Raleigh.
Stotesbury admitted there were times in the eight-year struggle that she considered giving up, but never did. So far her tenacity and that of her fellow NO OLF members have contributed to holding the Navy at bay. Then, last Tuesday, the Navy announced it was no longer considering Site C as a possible location for the landing field where pilots would practice landing on aircraft carriers. But there were no bottles of champagne being uncorked in Wenona.
Norman, Stotesbury and many Site C residents are awaiting the passage of a military appropriations bill that would officially disallow the Navy to spend any money on buying land in Washington County. When it passes, then Stotesbury said she would breathe a sigh of relief.
When that relief comes, Stotesbury said it will be a collective sigh made by an entire coalition of local residents and officials.
Closure is something Stotesbury said she may wrestle with, her life having been almost totally consumed with the struggle against the Navy since 2000.