Sen. Brock: OLF is a fiscal folly

The Navy’s controversial proposal to locate an aircraft carrier practice landing field in Eastern North Carolina has drawn disparate forces into the opposition’s camp, including legislators from across the political spectrum. Some have come on board following pleas from constituents in danger of losing land, livelihoods and homes.

Others have weighed in, voicing concerns over issues ranging from economic hardship to environmental damage.

Few legislators in the General Assembly, however, appear to have staked out a position as all-encompassing as Sen. Andrew C. Brock, a Republican second-term legislator from Mocksville.

Brock serves on a number of committees, including the agriculture, environment and natural resources committee.

In an interview with the Daily News, Brock made it clear he has three hot button issues: property rights, farmland protection and a strong military.

“Everybody in my family served in the military,” said Brock, whose farm heritage is equally strong, “coming from a rural area and living on a farm my family has lived on for 200 years.”

But property rights tops his agenda, and that issue drew him into the controversy surrounding the Navy’s bid to build an outlying landing field in Eastern North Carolina. Although the footprint of the field is relatively small, the Navy says it needs a total of about 33,000 acres to serve as a buffer against encroachment.

The land is prime farmland — “blackland,” to the agriculturally savvy — and has been passed down among generations of farm families, most of whom say their land is not for sale. To date, however, the Navy has said the land will belong to the federal government, through purchase or condemnation.

Brock is a current member and former staffer of Citizens for a Sound Economy. The state chapter also rates property rights at the top of its agenda. He served as 2000 campaign chairman for U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C.

OLF and property rights

“I’m a firm advocate of property rights. I believe that the people of Eastern North Carolina should have a say-so in this matter.”

As a fiscal conservative and member of the Senate finance committee, Brock said he’s also concerned over the nearly $200 million the Navy is willing to spend on a new facility when there are existing facilities — some used very little — that could serve as an OLF.

“I believe there are some other locations that are just as well-suited for this. I still think Kinston would be the better place for this. That Global TransPark with its big runway (would be) great.”

Brock has not come by his views casually. As an advocate for a strong defense, he has devoted some thought to North Carolina’s strategic value to the military. He pooh-poohs notions the OLF controversy could harm the state’s standing as Base Realignment and Closure decisions are mulled over.

“As far as losing any kind of base due to this, to me, that’s kind of a weak argument when you have the first-strike bases here in North Carolina: Lejeune, Bragg, Pope Air Force Base, Elizabeth City, Cherry Point, Sunny Point. … To say we’re going to lose one because somebody wants to develop land up in Virginia and put this (OLF) into an area which is good farmland (makes no sense). … They’re more important than probably a lot of other bases right now just because of their role and their function in the military, that to have them to close would be the worst thing for the military to do.”

Brock suggested that defending the homeland entails more than anticipating only external threats.

“We’re losing a lot of valuable farmland. I come from a rural area, and we’re losing a lot of our rural representation. And we don’t need to lose any more farmland than we have already now. Given bioterrorism, if we don’t have (reserve) farmland available, if something happens to the land, then we’re in pretty bad trouble in a short time.”

Brock indicated the state needs to balance its economy, keeping in mind agriculture has brought North Carolina to where it is today.

“I look at both sides. (The Navy) needs this. … Why (do) they want to go there and ruin some pristine farmland because once you do this, it ain’t comin’ back.”

Brock pointed out the diversity of the state’s soils, a product of geological forces, and the natural resource they constitute.

“We have some great soil,” he said regarding the Piedmont, “and we’re supposed to be one of the best areas to grow grape for wine.” The soil, he added, is well-suited for muscadines, known to have high concentrations of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

“I’ve talked to people and said, ‘If we can preserve our farmland as much as possible, it would be the greatest thing.’ Agriculture is still the number one product by far, $59 billion a year. By losing all that, I believe it would adversely affect our economy.”

Like many who oppose the Navy’s preferred site, Brock sees a number of troubling issues.

Public enemy No. 1?

“I’m probably more pro-military more than anybody else and, on property rights — to protect against enemies both foreign and domestic — I think taking our property rights is being an enemy to your own people. To take their property rights away when there’s a viable alternative — and I believe we have one — and to do anything else that goes outside that (is wrong).”

Brock said his membership in CSE resulted in his analysis of the OLF.

“With (CSE) there’s no litmus test on every issue; you come and go on issues as you please. And when the OLF came up, and me being as pro-military as I am, I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ I started looking at it, and I’m like, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ It doesn’t look like they’re using a lot of common sense on it.

“Take the politics, take the personal greed, take the money out of it, and what’s the best thing for the military? What’s the best thing for the people of this country?”

Brock indicated that losing North Carolina farmland to allow for more subdivisions in Virginia doesn’t sit well with him.

“If you got to move (Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, Va.), and if you want to develop that and put big houses on that thing, that’s fine. But where you going to put the OLF? When there’s one that’s kind of there already, which is Kinston, move it to Kinston. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Brock is among a number of advocates who suggest the Global TransPark would serve as a nearly ideal training facility — among them retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, a North Carolina resident and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“There’s some people in Lenoir County who might not like it,” conceded Brock, though he added that the transportation center’s reputation already has acclimated residents to the concept.

“That’s what it’s been hyped up to be all this time, that we’re going to have jets flying in here morning, noon and night. Plus, with the military presence in the area already, given that they’re so close to Goldsboro, you know it’s already a military town.”

Brock on BRAC

And for communities paranoid over BRAC closures, Brock indicated a Navy presence could make up for a downsized — or closed — nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, which many fear will be a result of the BRAC process this year.

“On top of that, if you do it anywhere else, it’s costing taxpayers a lot more money, a bunch of money. And we’ve already got (a runway) built at Kinston; I mean, use it. You’ve got something already, use it. When I worked for Congressman Jones, you talked to pilots that were worried because they wanted to get the training necessary. With oil prices going up, (training costs are) going up. We’re in the middle of conflict right now; you need to save as much money as possible.”

Pilot safety worries Brock, as well.

“I’ve been (to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County) when migratory birds have come through, and I’ve got friends who are pilots and family members that are now retired (military). But for them to fly through that, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a few birds are trouble at any airport; you’re talking about thousands and thousands where it darkens the sky; you’re talking about major trouble.”

Brock also is troubled by the Navy’s suggestions that it could use the Washington County site on a limited basis to avoid bird strikes. That, he said, could impair pilot readiness. He offered a number of “ifs.”

“If our boys aren’t up there getting the training, if they’re not up there flying because we gotta hold off because we got migratory birds coming through, or we spent $200 million to create this runway, and we ain’t got enough jet fuel — if they’re not out there and you face an adversary who has practiced, for somebody who doesn’t have the knowledge, (that spells trouble).”

Brock scored points with a metaphor all North Carolinians can relate to, in the aftermath of the April 4 NCAA championship basketball game:

“Just think if Carolina wasn’t allowed to practice last week.”