RALEIGH — Despite the promise of high-paying federal jobs to staff an outlying landing field, the Navy heard Thursday that counties in northeastern North Carolina still oppose an OLF at any of four sites being considered in that region.
At the third gathering of Gov. Mike Easley’s OLF Study Group in Raleigh, J. Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor for economic development at East Carolina University, gave an overview of the jobs an OLF would bring.
An OLF at any of the 22 proposed sites in North Carolina and Virginia would create 52 jobs, according to information the Navy supplied Morris. Those positions would have a payroll of $2,785,996 with individual salaries ranging from $49,000 to $62,000, according to Morris.
“Most of the positions would be maintenance, safety and infrastructure folks,” Morris said. “From a salary based standpoint compared to federal employees in neighboring counties, these would be relatively high-paying jobs.”
Morris said his report was not a cost/benefit analysis and was not intended to indicate wherefrom the jobs would be filled. Rear Adm. David Anderson, the Navy’s top officer on the OLF project, said the proposed facility would be entirely staffed by civilians.
“Our intention is that none of these be uniformed people,” he said. “We will be working with community colleges to fill these positions. And, for instance, the fire and rescue could be used in the county while we are not operating.”
The promise of jobs wasn’t enough for Gates County Interim Manager Melinda Hoggard. With the third lowest general fund balance in the state, she said Gates County could not recover from the negative economic impacts of an OLF.
Two of the new sites proposed in September — Sandbanks and the Old Railroad Grade site — are in Gates County.
“Gates County cannot afford the economic impact of an OLF,” Hoggard told the study group. “Either of the sites in our county would initially cost $10 million. ... We would be losing just as many jobs as you are offering if not more.”
Randell Woodruff, Camden County manager, painted a similarly bleak picture of his county if an OLF were to be sited there. Two of the six sites proposed in September — Hales Lake and Northwest River — are in Gates County. Two other possible sites are in the southeastern portion of the state. A decision from the Navy on whether to formally consider any of the six new sites is expected on or around Nov. 15, according to Anderson.
With a landmass of 240 square miles, at places a mere five miles wide, Woodruff said a 30,000-acre OLF footprint would take a huge chunk of a county that has made “tremendous” economic progress in recent years.
“There is only one north-south highway in Camden County which will be greatly impacted by the Hales Lake site,” he said. “For 160 years we had no growth. We had a population of only about 5,000. In the mid 1990’s we picked up growth from Hampton Roads, Va., and have doubled to 10,000 people. That’s tiny, but if you live in Camden, it’s very noticeable. The possibility of this facility coming to Camden would greatly hinder the progress we have made.”
Woodruff said his biggest concern was the possibility of an OLF lowering land value in Camden County. Land value there “skyrocketed” from its proximity to Hampton Roads, revenue from which Woodruff said the county is dependent.
“You’d be creating a situation where we would be completely dependent on the state and federal government,” he said. “We are an isolated corner of the state. I certainly wouldn’t want our governor or our state to push for this because if you do that, you isolate us even more.”
Jeffrey Jennings, chairman of the Camden County Board of Commissioners, said an OLF at Hales Lake would “consume 100 percent of” his farm and two neighboring farms. Speaking on behalf of his county, Gates County, Perquimans, Pasquotank and Currtituck counties, Jennings said the jobs and revenue the Navy is promising would not cover what an outlying field would take from the region.
“We are probably the three largest farms in Camden County,” Jennings said of himself and his neighbors at the Hales Lake site. “We’re already neighbor to Blackwater to the south, which I get complaints about. I don’t care if you’re going to bring all of Oceana to northeastern North Carolina, we don’t want it. Everything is not for sale. Some things don’t have a price. That’s our lives, because that’s what this thing will take.”