Attorney to address OLF foes tonight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

COURTLAND—Members of a citizens’ group that formed to fight a proposed Navy airfield will hear from the attorney hired to represent their counties during a special public meeting tonight.

Barry P. Steinberg, managing partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Kutak Rock LLP, is expected to discuss the role that citizens can play during the Navy’s environmental studies of five potential outlying landing field sites.

The meeting is planned for 7 p.m. at Southampton High School and will be hosted by Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, a citizens’ group that has organized to rally against the Navy and protect the three counties that would be most directly impacted by the airfield.

Tony Clark, chairman of the group, said Tuesday that he considers it &uot;a great thing&uot; that Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties have pooled their resources to hire Steinberg to represent them during the environmental impact studies.

&uot;Barry Steinberg has years and years of experience in this exact issue,&uot; he said in a telephone interview. &uot;He can help us navigate the waters&uot; of the National Environmental Policy Act, which governs the Navy’s two- to three-year review.

Steinberg has met with the governing bodies of the counties he will represent and has answered some questions from the public about his role and that of citizens in the review process.

He will be taking his direction from county officials in each of the three affected localities, which, he said, have agreed &uot;they would not shoot at each other and would not poach one another.&uot;

But citizens’ groups can have an important role in the process, he said, and his appearance at tonight’s VAOLF meeting is designed to help people understand how to be effective in their opposition to the Navy’s plans.

Residents of the rural counties under consideration by the Navy need to make their opposition to the OLF about something other than not wanting it in their back yards, he told a group in Surry last week. The Navy &uot;got that message before they ever got here,&uot; he said.

Instead, opponents should get to work identifying any potential impacts that could be expected from construction of the 2,000-acre airfield that would serve as a training facility for jet pilots qualifying to land on aircraft carriers.

From the noise impact on livestock reproduction to the possibility of reduced land values for property outside the OLF’s 30,000-acre buffer zone to the loss of tax revenue for land taken off the tax rolls, Steinberg said, citizens and county officials need to put forward every question they can think of for the Navy to address in its review.

&uot;Ask questions about what you’re concerned about,&uot; he said in an interview following a private meeting with the Southampton Board of Supervisors on Friday. Those issues could be noise, the loss of the rural lifestyle, traffic concerns or just about anything else that contributes to people’s &uot;relationship to the land.&uot;

&uot;The ‘quality of the human environment’ is the heart and soul of what NEPA is about,&uot; he said, describing as &uot;fuzzy&uot; the types of issues that could be involved and the importance each of those issues could carry in the process.

&uot;NEPA is fuzzy,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s not deliberately fuzzy; it’s fuzzy because of what it’s being asked to do.&uot;

In fact, the Navy’s own presentation in Surry last week identified a broad array of resources typically studied for potential environmental impacts during a NEPA survey.

Physical resources studied range from soils and waters to noise, air quality and cultural resources. Potential biological resource impacts could include vegetation, wildlife and endangered species. Socioeconomic factors including population, housing, transportation and community services also could be part of the study process, Navy representatives said.

But Steinberg said Friday that public input still would be vital to identifying all of the potential impacts that the Navy needs to study.

&uot;Every time I’ve worked one of these issues, there’s somebody who’s brought up something I never would have thought about,&uot; he said.