Tenor of OLF fight at hand

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 25, 2007

COURTLAND-In the face of mounting pressure, Southampton County supervisors will be encouraged Monday to decide just how strongly they would oppose building a Navy airfield in Southampton.

&uot;My sense from your Aug. 1 meeting was that our peaceful, tranquil and bucolic quality of life was not for sale at any price,&uot; County Administrator Michael Johnson wrote in a briefing included with agenda books sent to supervisors in preparation for their 6 p.m. Monday meeting.

&uot;If that’s still the case, you may wish to further correspond with Gov. (Timothy) Kaine, repeating your request to remove the Southampton sites from further consideration, while copying Adm. (David) Anderson and the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. While it may not remove the sites from consideration, at least your position will remain clear.&uot;

Johnson’s advice comes on the heels of a meeting he and Board of Supervisors Chairman Dallas O. Jones attended Sept. 6 in Norfolk, where they were told of the Navy’s plans to postpone for two months a public announcement of which sites were included on a short list of potential locations for the new auxiliary airfield.

That meeting, held at Naval Station Norfolk, included four Navy officials, two representatives of the Governor’s Office of Commonwealth Preparedness and the two Southampton representatives.

Johnson said they were told the Navy was working to set similar meetings with representatives of the other four counties that were represented on a list of potential hosts of a new Outlying Landing Field.

In a Sept. 7 letter to Southampton supervisors, Johnson said he and Jones were informed at that Norfolk meeting of the Navy’s decision to move away from its original plan to release a short list of favored potential sites after the Sept. 15 deadline that it had set for the process this summer.

Navy officials also briefed Johnson and Jones on their plans to send the staff recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy for further review. The men were told to expect a November public announcement regarding which Virginia and North Carolina sites will receive full environmental impact statements as required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

The full environmental review is expected to take up to two years and would include a number of opportunities for public input during NEPA-related hearings or public meetings.

In July, when four sites in Southampton and six others within about 100 miles of Oceana were identified by the governor’s office as potential hosts for the proposed practice landing field, officials from the governor’s office and the Navy said sites could be removed from consideration if the governor asked the Navy to do so.

Within just more than a month, all five Virginia counties on the list asked the governor to take that step, but he declined to do so.

Eleven North Carolina counties were unaware of their inclusion on a similar list submitted by their governor until this week, when a panel activated by Gov. Mike Easley announced the six locations that he had submitted as potential OLF sites in July.

Together with the Virginia governor’s 10 sites, one site offered by Sen. John Warner (Fort Pickett), and five sites (including the Navy’s controversial, preferred site in Washington County, N.C.) for which environmental studies already have been completed, the Navy is now looking at a list that includes at least 22 possible locations for the controversial training facility.

Recent reports indicate that citizens and government officials are unlikely to support locating the airfield at any of the 22 locations. The Associated Press this week spoke to government officials from Gates and Camden counties – portions of which are included in four of the six new North Carolina sites. Those officials expressed skepticism about the new sites’ chances for local support.

In Virginia, local governments have been encouraged to maintain an open dialog with the Navy, according to Southampton County’s Johnson. He wrote in his letter that Navy and governor’s office representatives discussed potential financial incentives that could be available to a county that chooses to host the F/A-18 Super Hornet training facility.

Johnson’s letter told of being reminded of a $7 million annual appropriation the City of Virginia Beach receives from the commonwealth for hosting Oceana.

&uot;They further noted that the Department of Defense may provide some financial incentive,&uot; he wrote.