A refreshing trend

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

Don’t look now, but regionalism – despised by some and too often lacking in Western Tidewater in recent years – is enjoying a resurgence.

To the extent that our elected and civic leaders stay this course, our communities and citizens can be big winners.

The moment wasn’t lost on U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., when he addressed a joint meeting of the Franklin-Southampton and Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor chambers of commerce Monday at International Paper. Best anyone could remember, it was the first time the organizations’ boards have met together.

Significantly, elected officials from all three localities – including the entire Southampton County Board of Supervisors – was in the room.

Forbes commended the spirit of cooperation and called such gatherings critical to problem-solving, both locally and across the country.

Though it’s true that the two main topics on Monday’s agenda – flood control and opposition to the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field n had near-unanimous support prior to the gathering, let’s not downplay the significance. Cooperation must start somewhere, and topics on which we already agree – but on which we can find strength in numbers – are a logical starting point.

Southampton County supervisors this week voted to contribute $6,400 toward a Chowan River Basin study for which Franklin Mayor Jim Councill has been the lead advocate. Franklin, Isle of Wight, Emporia and Sussex County also have pitched in, and Greensville and Surry counties are expected to.

Give Councill credit for reaching out to other localities in the region – and to officials in those localities for responding. Though Franklin and Isle of Wight County, arguably, have more to gain from flooding solutions, the problem is regional in scope and will require a regional solution.

Likewise, while Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties are targeted sites for the Navy’s jet training facility, the entire region would feel the impact of it. An opposition case bolstered by leading voices in Franklin and Isle of Wight County will be a stronger one. Though both boards have passed resolutions opposing an OLF in this region, a more interesting test will be whether Franklin and Isle of Wight, in a tight economy, contribute money to the Southampton-led fight.

Success on flood control and the OLF would encourage our localities to tackle more sensitive topics, like school consolidation.

No subject should be taboo, and the dialog must be ongoing.

Here’s hoping that Monday’s meeting at IP – a historic first – will not be the last.