Forbes: Congress holds pursestrings for Navy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2008

FRANKLIN—Even if the Navy chooses a site in Virginia as its preferred location for an outlying landing field, the service could find itself unable to finance the airfield, area business and government leaders learned Monday. In the first-ever joint meeting between the boards of directors of the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, the special guest, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th), fielded questions about the OLF site selection process and other matters of local and national interest.

&uot;There’s a real question over whether the Navy will have the money to build an OLF,&uot; Forbes told the chamber members and invited government officials from Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight.

He explained that he is much more concerned about the Navy’s ability to defend its aircraft carriers against a new line of Chinese missiles designed to fly below their radars and to sneak through those ships’ outer defenses.

China, he said, is trying to sell the missiles to Russia and Iran, putting U.S. sailors at great risk. Forbes, who holds a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he has told Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter that he wants the service to commit substantial sums of money to come up with a defense against the missile, and quickly.

Forbes also dismissed the idea that the fate of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach is tied to that of the proposed OLF. Referring to the most recent report by the government’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which highlighted a number of problems with the urban air station, he said, &uot;There is nothing in BRAC that linked the OLF with whether (Oceana) stays&uot; in Virginia.

The Navy seeks to build an airfield where pilots can practice aircraft carrier landings on one of five sites in Virginia and North Carolina. Two of those potential sites are located in Southampton and Sussex counties, and Forbes has promised to fight for those counties if they continue to oppose the airfield after the Navy completes its federally required environmental survey of all five sites.

None of the communities considered as hosts or neighbors of the proposed landing strip has supported the idea so far, but Navy officials have expressed optimism that some will do so, once they learn of possible economic benefits the OLF could bring.

&uot;I’ve told the Navy it is going to be a heavy lift,&uot; Forbes said Monday.

As a member of a powerful subcommittee within the House Armed Services Committee—and as a likely member of any House/Senate conference committee—he would be in a position to ensure that any funding or authorization bill has an uphill battle in Congress, he assured the group.

&uot;What I’m hoping is that the Navy will kind of read between the lines and say, ‘Do I really want to pick this fight?’&uot;

Government leaders also shared their concerns about energy costs and illegal immigration during the question-and-answer session, held in a conference room at International Paper’s Franklin mill.

Forbes touted a &uot;new Manhattan Project&uot; aimed at finding a technological solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil.

His plan would offer a $1 billion prize to anyone who could develop technology that would make the U.S. 50 percent less dependent on foreign oil in 10 years and completely independent of it in 20 years.

&uot;We see a lot of people going around just being mad&uot; about energy prices, he said. &uot;But we don’t see a lot of people rolling up their sleeves&uot; and trying to find a solution. The big cash prize could spur that sort of action, he said.

His plan was highlighted in a column in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, where Gerald F. Seib blasts other Washington politicians for their hand-wringing approach to the growing energy crisis.

Regarding illegal immigration, Forbes said some politicians are holding solutions to two parts of the problem—border control and temporary workers—hostage to their desires to provide amnesty for the 20 million or so illegal immigrants thought already to be in the U.S.

&uot;Amnesty is going to be devastating to the economy in terms of health care issues,&uot; he predicted. &uot;The best thing that has happened to immigration across the country is what local governments have done and what state governments have done.&uot;