Gates County moves to block Navy field

Gates County has turned to activist groups much like Washington County did to oppose the Navy’s proposal to build a jet practice airfield there.

About 150 people gathered in the Gates County Courthouse Thursday morning, including representatives of FreedomWorks and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

“Yes, absolutely, we can stop this,” Kathy Hartkopf, a legislative liaison for FreedomWorks, told the group.

The meeting included a new DVD of local landowners talking about the hardship of leaving homes that in some cases have been owned by the same family for generations. A common theme was that fair market value was not enough.

“Are they going to give us the blood, sweat and tears we put into this land?” Ruth Washington, who lives in what would be a high-noise zone, asked in the video. “No.”

FreedomWorks has 800,000 members nationwide and supports causes related to lower taxes and less government, according to its Web site.

Citizens Against OLF in Gates County has hired Anita Earls, founder of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and who formerly worked in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Earls could not attend Monday but sent her representative, Jessica Holmes, said Laura Dickerson, spokeswoman for the Gates County group.

Founded last year in Durham, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice will represent and help organize minority and low-income communities. Many black families live within what would be a high-noise zone around the proposed OLF site in Gates County.

Another meeting with the same agenda was planned for 7 p.m. Thursday, also at the courthouse.

Republican U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr and other elected officials have said they opposed an OLF where the community doesn’t want it.

The Navy announced last month that a site in Gates County, one in Camden County and three in Virginia would be studied over the next 30 months to see which one would be most suitable for an OLF.

Washington County OLF opponents celebrated when the Navy also announced that site was no longer on the list.

In 2002, the Navy named Washington County as a preferred site, setting off an opposition movement that began with local landowners and grew to include dozens of environmental groups, elected officials and state and federal agencies among others.

The battle included public rallies, letters, lobbying and lawsuits, with much of it centered on the negative effects an airfield would have on thousands of migrating waterfowl at nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Jeff Hampton, (252) 338-0159,