Not learning from OLF mistakes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It’s little wonder that the U.S. Navy allowed its self-imposed Nov. 15 deadline for narrowing the list of possible sites for the outlying airfield to come and go with very little information being made public.

The Navy is looking to build an airfield to supplement Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress as a place for Navy flyers to practice carrier landings. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter is considering 22 potential sites, 11 of those in Virginia, including four that are located wholly or in part in Southampton County. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine proposed the Virginia sites during the summer.

After widespread and overwhelming objections from blocs of Virginians and North Carolinians, the Navy said it would shorten its list of sites and make that list public on Nov. 15. Instead, what the Navy supplied last week was a terse e-mail to public officials stating the Navy would provide no such list.

Among the many missteps taken by the Navy brass and state officials in their effort to build an airstrip has been lack of willingness to share information.

Secrecy seemed to be the preferred form of operation.

From the very start, that phase of the project was bungled. Many local officials didn’t know such a list existed until the summer morning it was made public.

So the objection began with the manner in which the list was circulated, then centered on the organized fight against an OLF.

During the summer when the news of potential sites made front pages in two states, Gov. Kaine’s representatives assured county officials in each of the potentially affected localities that the governor would ask the Navy to remove sites from contention if they asked him to do so. The Navy said then that it would honor such a request from the governor. It has not, as far as we know.

And still the selection deadline passed without taking any action.

Robert P. Crouch Jr. is the assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness and heads up the agency that was originally in charge of working with the Navy to identify potential Virginia locations for a touch-and-go airstrip for F/A-18 Super Hornets.

His e-mail last week included the statement, “We will get back to you when we learn anything new, but thought it important that you be aware that there is unlikely to be anything announced in the near future.”

By the time the Navy gets around to releasing its new list of sites, the opposition will be so solidified and organized that it will become quite clear to Navy officials that waiting quietly was not the best strategy.