NC approves anti-OLF legislation

Published 9:46 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

At least one battle has been won against the Navy’s plans to possibly construct an OLF (Outlying Landing Field) in Gates County, N.C.

By a vote of 113-0, the North Carolina House of Representatives on Thursday approved House Bill 613. That legislation amends the state’s Federal Reservation Statute to read that “the consent of the state is not granted to the United States for acquisition, by purchase, condemnation or otherwise, of land in the state for the purpose of establishing an outlying landing field in a county or counties which have no existing military base for the purpose of supporting and training of aircraft squadrons stationed at or transient to military bases or military stations located outside of the state.”

The bill, filed March 16 with Representative Annie Mobley (D-Ahoskie) and Bill Owens (D-Elizabeth City) as the primary sponsors, was unanimously passed on both its required second and third readings on the floor of the House on Thursday.

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The legislation now moves to the NC Senate (there as Senate Bill 808) with Roanoke-Chowan area State Senator Ed Jones as the primary sponsor.

“The ball is now in Ed’s court,” said Mobley on Friday when contacted by telephone at her Ahoskie home.

“We’re really happy for the citizens of Gates and Camden counties (Camden is also on the Navy’s short list of five possible OLF sites) over this legislation,” Mobley continued. “I know my good friends up in Gates County are smiling today. This is a hurdle we’ve been trying to clear for months now.”

Rep. Mobley added that this bill will “now hopefully turn things around for us.”

“We’re thrilled with the bill’s outcome,” said Laura Dickerson of Gatesville who helped to organize Citizens Against OLF. “We were especially thrilled with the fact that there was no opposition to the bill. We think that sends a very powerful message across the state that an OLF is not wanted, or it is needed, in North Carolina.”

Dickerson added that she and her colleagues are planning to attend any Senate committee hearings in regards to the bill. Currently, Senate Bill 808 is in the Committee on State and Local Government.

“We’ll be there primarily just to listen to the discussion, but if they call upon us we will be ready to answer any questions they may have,” she said.

From a local government standpoint, Gates County Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan said the bill effectively creates another hoop the Navy has to jump through.

“The Navy can still come here and make an offer to purchase our land, but with this bill the state of North Carolina can say no,” he said. “If the Navy wants to force the issue from there, the state attorney general can step in. He will defend the state and Gates County in this issue, and he will do that at no cost to Gates County.”

“In short, what this bill does is gives the Navy another hurdle they must jump over,” Rep. Mobley said in an earlier interview. “Not that it will deter them any, but maybe this will force the Navy to keep their noise in Virginia rather than dumping it on us.”

The Navy is seeking to build an OLF, a military aircraft practice facility, in either Gates or Camden County. Three other possible OLF sites are in Virginia, one each in Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties.