Evaluating options is necessary

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sometimes, when a hitter least expects it, the pitcher throws a curveball. A good curveball disrupts the batter’s balance and timing, and is most effective when he’s expecting a fastball right down the middle. If the batter isn’t ready for it, there’s a good chance he’ll swing and miss.

Constantly re-evaluating your situation so you can anticipate what the pitcher is going to throw next is the key to hitting a curveball. Good batters can actually make hitting a curveball look easy if they are prepared, balanced and ready for the opportunity when it presents itself.

Doesn’t it often feel as though life, like baseball, is about anticipating the next curveball?

A couple of weeks ago International Paper threw us a curveball. And like the batter trying to get a hit, we need to re-evaluate our situation so that we can ensure future success.

The recovery process for our region will require a thorough examination of all new opportunities for economic growth and job creation. We need new ideas and new industry, while at the same time figuring out how to capitalize on existing industry and the potential presented by our greatest asset, which is our work force. Another part of this process should be to re-evaluate any opportunities we may have turned down in the past, including the outlying landing field.

Those who are familiar with my position on the OLF may find that statement somewhat surprising. I have opposed the OLF since it was initially proposed to us over two years ago. But when life throws us a curve, the prudent thing to do is re-evaluate and look for opportunities.

When IP announced it would be shutting down, I immediately began thinking about my friends and family who will be losing jobs in the next few months and are unsure about their future. I am extremely concerned for them, as I am for our entire community, and I would do anything to help find a solution. However, contrary to some letters to the editor we have read in the past couple of weeks, an outlying landing field is not the solution.

We need jobs, plain and simple, and an outlying landing field would not address that need. Of the 62 jobs the Navy claims would be associated with the landing field, a large portion would be specialty positions that are likely to be filled by Navy personnel or outside contractors. Due to Federal hiring guidelines, there would be absolutely no guarantee that any of the remaining jobs would be filled locally. The same applies to the construction of the field; the bidding process would be open, and the contract awarded to the lowest bidder, with no guarantee of local employment.

A suggestion was made in a recent submission to The Tidewater News that we demand 90 percent of the jobs and contracts be awarded locally while placing additional demands on the government for millions in new infrastructure spending. While I believe this letter writer was well-intended, I don’t believe that this approach would bear any fruit. When we have asked what type of economic incentives they could offer, the Navy has made it quite clear that it has no power to authorize any spending measures and can only request funding for the OLF project itself. Members of Congress have said time and again that it would be challenged in coming up with the $250 million to $400 million in estimated acquisition and construction costs for the landing field itself, so additional project money is highly unlikely.

These points are not speculation. They come directly from the Navy and members of Congress.

So what benefit would an outlying landing field provide the community? While providing no meaningful employment or additional industry to a community in need of jobs and opportunity for economic growth, scarce little it seems. In fact, an OLF would do more harm than good. In the last two years, we have lost the majority of our employers in two of our three main industries: Manufacturing and corrections. Agriculture remains, but would be directly impacted by the construction of an OLF. The loss of at least 2,000 acres of productive farm and timber property with crop restrictions placed on countless thousands of other acres would be a major blow to the one industry that has remained constant in our community for hundreds of years. In addition, the noise and safety implications associated with the outlying landing field are disincentives to other economic growth opportunities.

As for the notion that Western Tidewater should lobby to be next in line to host the master jet base, the Navy insists it will not relocate, even though common sense and the findings of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission dictate it should. And considering the countless billions it would cost to recreate a master jet base here and the amount of time it would take for the process to begin, we would be decades away from such a possibility becoming reality.

So yes, IP threw us a curveball, and it is incumbent upon us to reevaluate all of our options. But that does not mean we should be grasping at straws. The OLF does not provide meaningful employment, would erode the tax base and would also take productive farms and timber crop out of the hands of farmers and landowners. Unlike the mill, an OLF would not create additional jobs via related and support industries either.

Having personally re-evaluated the prospects of an outlying landing field, I am even more confident than ever that an OLF is not the solution we’re looking for.