U.S. House candidates oppose OLF project

Published 9:59 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

FRANKLIN — In the week before the election, The Tidewater News reached out to the candidates running for Congress to determine their views on one of the most pressing issues facing Southampton County — the Navy’s proposal to build an Outlying Landing Field.

There has been stark opposition in the county to putting an OLF here or in neighboring Sussex County, another proposed site.

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th) has said he would use his House Armed Services Committee position to derail a Southampton or Sussex site for the jet landing field.

“My position has always been the same — I do not believe that an OLF should be imposed upon these localities if they do not want it,” Forbes said in a prepared statement.

Andrea Miller, Forbes’ Democratic opponent, is vehemently opposed to the OLF.

“Bringing the airfield out into rural America is as wrong as wrong gets,” she said during a telephone interview with The Tidewater News. “It is the most illogical thing I have heard the military suggest.”

Sussex and Southampton share two of five sites identified by the Navy as possible locations for the airfield. Surry and Prince George counties share another, and two sites are in North Carolina.

Because of Forbes’ position as ranking member of the Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee, Tony Clark, chairman of Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, said his group would probably endorse Forbes.

“Randy Forbes can help us and he is in a position to help us,” Clark said.

A new landing strip would support the Navy’s training of Super Hornet pilots by hosting an expected 13,600 landings per year, broken down into one or two 45-minute sessions per day, when four or five aircraft would perform eight to 10 landings and take-offs, according to a presentation made earlier in the year by the Navy.

About 70 percent of the operations would occur after sunset, and training would normally be confined to the period between Sunday evening and Friday afternoon. But the facility would need to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to allow for so-called “surge training” in support of pending deployments.

Navy officials said that, depending on the site chosen, the core area actually owned by the Navy could be as small as 2,000 acres, with some surrounding acreage subject to the purchase of restrictive use easements that would allow most agricultural and hunting uses but would forbid most development.

Clark has met separately with each candidate for the U.S. Senate about the issue.

Both Mark Warner and Jim Gilmore, who are campaigning to succeed Sen. John Warner, have said publicly that they support the military and the OLF, and the need for the U.S. Navy to have a place to practice nighttime carrier landings.

“Gilmore is completely blocked off mentally as to alternate possibilities,” Clark said. “Warner, at least, expressed interest in finding alternative solutions to an Outlying Landing Field. Jim Gilmore did not. He seemed more interested in poking holes in our story than in learning anything new that can help him make a more enlightened decision.”

Critics of the anti-OLF movement have said that no OLF will result in the closing of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.

But Clark argues that is not true.

“OLF doesn’t fix the problem they have at Oceana,” he said. “It’s never been an either-or situation. In 2005, when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission met, it was never said that an outlying landing field was going to save Oceana. Oceana is in trouble, with or without an outlying landing field.”

Sen. John Warner had previously asked that the Navy consider Fort Picket, near Blackstone, as a potential location for an auxiliary landing field to supplement operations at the existing Naval Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake.