OLF brings no economic benefit, only noise, land loss

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 14, 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE — A list of proposed sites for an outlying landing field is being considered by the Navy. Officials with the Navy said this week that more research is needed. A list of suggested sites is expected to be known in 60 days.

Pamela Walker in her recent letter to the editor asserted the outlying landing field (OLF) “would be a big boost for all economies considered.”

There are many people in the five affected counties who desire to know what sources or research led Walker to make such a statement.

Two groups on opposite sides of the OLF debate, the Coalition of Citizens and Farmers Fight Navy, and the Concerned Citizens About Jet Noise, have both reached the same conclusion: An OLF would bring no economic development to the area in which it is located.

Encroachment — uncontrolled economic development around the Fentress OLF in Chesapeake is one of the driving forces behind the move for a new OLF.

The Navy will not make the same mistake of allowing development around its installation twice.

The new OLF will retard economic development rather that foster it due to legislation passed last year in the General Assembly as a result of BRACC pressure.

Senate Bill 565 requires all counties in which an OLF is located to amend their zoning ordinances to conform to Navy policies.

As much as 33,000 acres could be lost from the tax base of the county that is chosen to host the OLF (Office of Commonwealth Preparedness Web site). This area would be from 40 to 50 square miles in area.

In a small county such as Surry, this would represent close to 15 percent of its taxable land.

Surry is the smallest of the affected counties with 296 square miles of land. With this loss of land comes a parallel loss of taxable personal property and farm equipment. So one is left to wonder as to what tax revenues would be created as noted in Walker’s letter. Note: the Navy does not pay taxes.

As for jobs being created, when the Navy first proposed the OLF in Washington County, N.C., it was said it would create 30 new jobs. Now that the OLF is being proposed in Virginia, that number has risen more than 70 percent to 52.

Regardless of the number jobs created, a cursory review of the Southampton County GIS maps indicates that any site proposed in Southampton would displace more people than jobs created.

There is no way to say if those displaced people will remain in the county.

It is possible that the loss of jobs in the county due to displacement will be greater than the jobs gained.

The pilots of the Navy are among the most highly trained aviators in the world. That training was performed at Fentress NLF in Chesapeake and Oceana NAS in Virginia Beach. Obviously, given the superb performance of these fine young men and women, the quality of training is not an issue driving the OLF debate as many would have us believe.

On May 16, The Virginian Pilot reported that the Navy had reached a settlement of a lawsuit with 2,100 homeowners in the Chesapeake, Virginia Beach area over noise created by jets flying out of Oceana and Fentress.

The price tag was $34.4 million.

The City of Virginia Beach reports on its BRACC information Web site that by virtue of the Navy redefined noise contours (OPNAV Instructions 12-19-02) that 34,600 homes are now incompatible, that is to say they lie within an accident potential zone, or within a high noise zone, or both.

This number of homes does not include those in Chesapeake that also lie within the noise contours.

Do the math.

If the 34,000 other homeowners in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake were to follow the lead of the 2,100 who sued the Navy, the price tag could well exceed $550 million, which makes the $100 million for a new OLF to funnel away the noise seem cheap.

The Navy has two choices: It can either build a new master jet base (cost $2 billion) or it can dump the noise on some rural area.

A new base means the loss of Oceana. It is the threatened loss of Oceana as a master jet base with its $700 million payroll that has prompted the governor to get involved by suggesting sites within the commonwealth.

Patriotism has nothing to do with the OLF issue; training of our Navy pilots, but a very small part of the issue. The issues here are noise and money on the part of the Navy, and pandering for votes and keep a $700 million payroll in Virginia Beach for the governor. Both the Navy and the governor have squandered much of their credibility over the issue.

This columnist is also less than objective as his home and livelihood lie within one of the OLF sites. It is for that reason that all the research references are given in this letter.

The reader is therefore urged to go to these Web sites and see for themselves where the truth lies.

Joe H. Drake lives in Newsoms and is a frequent contributor.