Navy has no power to deliver on its promises

Published 12:36 pm Saturday, May 2, 2009

One of the main issues surrounding the proposed outlying landing field is the economic impact the project would have on our community.

And, depending upon whose side of the story you’re listening to, I suppose that a fair argument could be made by either party as to whether the impact would be a positive or a negative one.

For example, the potential of bringing 62 jobs to a region that is mourning the loss and downsizing of its major employers is a good thing. But there are absolutely no assurances that those jobs, some highly technical and specialized, would be filled by local workers. Because the positions would be classified as federal jobs, they would be open to an application process that would not guarantee employment to local residents.

Another example would be the removal of prime agricultural land from productive use. The Navy says we’d be allowed to farm right up to the concrete, that farming is perfectly compatible with an OLF, and that the Navy would reimburse the community for any lost tax revenue. Of course, with crop restrictions placed on the farm operations, farmers see it a little differently.

And then there’s the whole property-value issue. How do we accurately predict today the loss of tax revenue due to declining property values around an OLF?

What really concerns me, however, is the notion being promoted by the Navy that we’d be missing out on huge economic incentives by not welcoming the landing field into our community.

Here’s why I’ve take issue with that assertion: The Navy is not authorized to make any promise to us of any economic incentive whatsoever. Period. Fact. End of discussion.

The Navy can’t even guarantee that its own project, the landing field that it has spent millions of dollars pursuing the last several years, will receive funding. The project has to receive funding approval from Congress before it can be built.

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., the ranking member of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, has already promised to block funding of the OLF to the extent that he is able. And with the Department of Defense budget calling for an across-the-board reduction in spending, this particular project is facing an uphill battle for financing.

Given that scenario, how does the Navy intend to deliver a water-treatment facility, or a new college, or any of the other pie-in-the-sky proposals that it has thrown out as possibilities in recent months?

On Tuesday night in Jarratt, the Navy presenter told the audience that if we waited until the project was under construction before asking for financial incentive, it was his “gut feeling” that we will have missed our chance for an economic payoff and would likely receive nothing. While the you’d-better-speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace approach to negotiating is a fairly insulting and, quite frankly, dim-witted way to endear yourself to the community, it’s also my “gut feeling” that, no matter what we asked from the Navy in exchange for hosting an OLF, that it is in no position to deliver on the promise.