OLF? Don#8217;t need it

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2007

If you are one of those who think the Outlying Land Field (OLF) would signal the start of economic development within Southampton County, you may wish to reconsider.

“Our intention is to protect Oceana Naval Air Station,” said Robert Crouch Jr., an assistant to Gov. Kaine as quoted from a statement given to the Washington Daily News, July 11, 2007.

The 12,000 employees of Oceana constitute a payroll of more than $700 million each year (The Virginian-Pilot, HamptonRoads_com-PilotOnline_com) which is pumped into the economy of the City of Virginia Beach. Virginia Beach loves the Navy’s money.

What they do not love is the noise created by the jet planes.

The fact is, by the Navy’s own admission, the primary reason for the OLF is jet noise in the Oceana-Fentress areas.

“It is precisely because of community concerns over jet noise that we are carefully exploring the establishment of an additional outlying field …,”

Admiral Robert J. Natter, Commander In Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet

said in October 2000. One Web site quotes a Navy “Final Environmental Impact Statement” (FEIS) of July 2003 as stating the OLF being unnecessary because “Existing facilities [are] adequate” (noolf.com, Coalition of Citizens and Farmers Fight Navy).

So what does this have to do with our local Southampton economy? The answer, and the problem, in a word is encroachment. In their quest to generate more tax revenues via property taxes, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake have allowed unchecked residential and business development to build up to the boundaries of these Naval Air Fields. Now that they have built there, the residents of these areas are concerned about the jet noise. It is their complaints that have driven the Navy to seek a new OLF. If the Navy builds an OLF in Southampton they will do all they can to prevent encroachment from threatening their installation as it has in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. In short the Navy will retard economic growth in the county rather than foster it.

Make no mistake, the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake are seeking to enhance their quality of life, property values, and economic growth at the expense of the citizens of Southampton County and they are now being aided by the office of the Governor of the Commonwealth. This is a reverse Robin Hood syndrome: the rich robbing from the poor.

At some point, someone will refer to the socioeconomic impact statement that was part of the Governor’s initial presentation. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is one page, three paragraphs written by one Davis M. Walsh. It has problems. First, who is Davis M. Walsh, and why is he qualified to issue a socioeconomic impact statement, the statement does not say.

Also, there are no research references given. For all anyone knows, the figures he gives could have been made up.

Walsh states that the OLF would create 52 full- and part-time jobs generating a payroll of $2.8 million per year. That is an average of over $53,800 per year per job for both part- and full-time employees. There are serious doubts that even the Navy would pay such wages to cut grass and paint buildings.

And there is nothing that says that these jobs would be filled by any Southampton residents.

Also it is stated that construction would create 506 to 631 jobs and would result in a $100 million dollar regional impact.

The operative word here is “regional” impact (as opposed to “local” impact). There are few, if any, companies in Southampton that offer what the Navy would need in order to construct the OLF. The companies that would be doing the work will in all probability bring in employees who they have already hired, so there would be few Southampton residents hired. Also what happens in two years when the construction is completed? What do those hired for the job do when the job is finished?

A far better term would have been to say 506 to 631 jobs will be required, rather than created, as most of the people used in the construction will be current employees of the construction companies.

Let us examine the impact on just one of the four county sites, that being the site designated 4A by the Governor’s presentation.

All numbers will be approximations, as the exact boundaries are as yet unknown.

The value of the real estate and improvements on this site total between $11 and $12 million dollars, according to the county’s Web site.

Once this land is taken from the tax base it will be gone forever — the Navy pays no real estate taxes.

In addition, 28 families will lose their homes.

Between 900 and 1,000 acres of crop land will be taken. There are 180 other families and/or dwellings within one mile of the site. Roads running from the east to west will be lost: Monroe Road, Mary Hunt Road and Woodland Road. The effect of this will be to divert large amounts of agricultural equipment to General Thomas Highway. And there will be other incidental costs to the state and county which have yet to be evaluated, those being cost of infrastructure to accommodate the OLF. For example, none of the county fire departments are trained or equipped to handle an accident involving a jet fighter filled with several thousand gallons of jet fuel, and a possible act of terrorism is not beyond the realm of possibilities for which our law enforcement personnel will have to consider and train.

The building of an Outlying Landing Field in Southampton County is an attempt to export the noise problems of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake to another area while retaining all the economic benefits of the Oceana Naval Air Station with its $700 million dollar payroll.

Once here, the OLF will not contribute to the economic growth of the county, but will retard it as it is in the Navy’s best interest to do so.

People will lose their homes, and the quality of life for many more will decrease.

Southampton cannot afford to host the Outlying Landing Field.

Joe H. Drake lives in Newsoms. His e-mail address is bmc2@mindspring.com.