Forbes on OLF: We will fight

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SEBRELL­—Opponents of the Navy’s plan to possibly build an outlying landing field in Western Tidewater have at least one ally in Congress — U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va.

“He has been our only support in an issue that is very near and dear to particularly the people in this part of the county,” said Sebrell farmer Bruce Phillips. Phillips and his wife, Gayle, invited Forbes to their annual harvest party on Saturday.

“It’s basically to thank him for all of his support,” Phillips said of Forbes’ invitation to the party.

Forbes said that an amendment he introduced to the annual defense policy bill in June passed both the Armed Services Committee and the full House of Representatives.

According to the amended bill, if the governing body of a locality chosen to host the OLF formally opposes it, then it cannot be built in the locality unless Congress enacts a law authorizing the secretary of the Navy to proceed with the OLF.

While this is a small victory for OLF opponents, it isn’t law yet. Both the House and the Senate have passed separate bills, which now must be merged to create the final bill.

“The problem that we now face is that we’re in a conference,” Forbes said. “And in a conference we have to take the Senate bill, which does not have the provision, and the House bill, which does have it, and mirror the two up.”

Complicating matters, Forbes said that feedback from senators suggests that they will not support the provision in the Senate version. Forbes suggested that residents contact the offices of U.S. senators and let their positions be known.

“Just encourage them to support that provision, which we think is reasonable and fair,” Forbes said.

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., has introduced his own amendment in the Senate version of the defense bill that would require the navy mitigate impacts raised by the public, to evaluate opportunities for economic assistance and to minimize the land removed from the state tax base, according Webb spokeswoman Jessica Smith.

“This amendment is about good governance,” Webb said in a prepared statement. “It will enable our congressional committees to make more informed judgments to strike the right balance between important national security decisions and the views of local communities.”

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said that Warner does not support the provision at this point.

“Sen. Warner believes that the Forbes amendment is premature,” Hall said. “The Navy is undertaking a process, and we ought to let that process go forward and then evaluate.”

Even if the provision doesn’t make it into the final bill, Forbes said he isn’t ready to give up.

“If we lose that provision we’ll still continue to fight it,” he said. “But that would be an important win for us.”

Phillips and those at Saturday’s party are also not giving up the fight to keep the OLF out.

“Stand here and look at how beautiful and how quiet it is,” Phillips said, standing on his porch looking over his farm, which is more than 100 years old. “That’s why we live here in the country.”

The Navy has identified five sites for the proposed OLF — three in Virginia and two in North Carolina. 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.