OLF foes gain steam

Published 8:11 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Navy could face a significant hurdle to constructing an outlying landing field anywhere in the nation if a bill amended by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., becomes law.

Forbes, the ranking member of the House Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, introduced an amendment Friday to the annual defense policy bill that would ensure localities have a final say in the siting process for an OLF.

“I’m happy to tell you that Congressman Forbes’ amendment was unanimously adopted,” said Ryan Kaldahl, Forbes’ legislative director.

According to Kaldahl, Forbes’ amendment would empower local governments by letting them decide whether to accept an OLF.

The amendment would bar the Navy from constructing an OLF if the locality — more than likely a county and its governing board of supervisors — formally opposed the plan within 90 days of a site selection by the Navy.

But there is an exception, Kaldahl cautioned. Congress could still move forward on an OLF if it enacted specific legislation to do so.

“This exception was necessary so that the amendment was not unconstitutional,” Kaldahl said. “However, this kind of requirement would create a major hurdle to put an OLF in any place other than where it was wanted.”

The next steps for the bill to become law are passage by the full Armed Services Committee — which could vote this week on the measure — and then by the full House of Representatives. Kaldahl said the bill “appears likely” to clear the House.

The bill would then move on to the Senate, where its prospects for passage are uncertain.

“Even if it doesn’t pass the Senate, it sends a huge message to the Navy,” said Tony Clark, chairman of the group Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field. “If it passes the committees and the full House, that’s pretty telling. This would be the shot fired across the Navy’s bow.”

The Navy has identified five sites, three in Virginia and two in North Carolina, for the proposed OLF. The three Virginia sites are Cabin Point, Dory and Mason. The Cabin Point site is near the confluence of Surry, Prince George and Sussex counties, while the Dory and Mason sites straddle both Sussex and Southampton counties.

In North Carolina, the Sandbanks site is mostly in Gates County, but part of Hertford County would also be affected. The Hale’s Lake site comprises parts of Camden and Currituck counties.