Former OLF reporter takes issue with column

Published 7:45 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

To the Editor:

The following is an open letter to Ms. Laura Edwards-Bangor (“Not all negative,” Sunday, Dec. 27) regarding benefits of an outlying landing field. With all due respect, I have to take issue with your analysis of Navy outlying landing field “benefits.”

I was the chief OLF reporter at the Washington Daily News for four years and reported almost daily on it. As an investigative reporter, I was able to look at many Navy documents and proposed contracts, outlining many aspects of construction, labor, maintenance and the contractors who would be employed. Very few jobs would have involved local labor, and those jobs were minimum-wage jobs such as grass-cutting.

The Navy had carefully engineered its bid process, tailoring the parameters such that only one firm was likely to bid. That firm was E.V. Williams in Virginia Beach. The bid parameters required the winning contractor to do long-term maintenance as well. The Navy eventually admitted the “millions” in local job dollars would not materialize, the actual number closer to thousands. For a glimpse at a handful of Department of Defense tailored bids, visit For a look at the multiple millions taxpayers lavish upon Virginia Beach firms, visit and do a search for the 23464 ZIP code. Defense contracts typically go to firms already in the pool.

In the early stages, Navy officials touted the OLF’s economic benefits.

However, as more and more details emerged, the Navy was forced to concede there would be no economic benefit, eventually admitting there would a net economic loss from the project. Local officials had sensed this all along and most opposed the project, knowing local budgets would be wrecked through the loss of taxable land base as well as diminished business and farming activity.

Yes, the many acres of land acquired from local owners were to be leased to residents who would be allowed to farm it — with restrictions and Navy oversight. Large areas surrounding the OLF landing strip could no longer grow food crops in order to discourage bird feeding. When pressed, Navy officials continued to shift projections on land use, stating what crops could be grown would only be determined when the airfield was put in use. Pressed further, the Navy conceded former owners would be given preference — but no guarantee — that their former land would be available and leased to them.

Sad to say, hundreds of local families with long traditions of military service and support came to feel misled and finally betrayed as the OLF saga played out. An old axiom and its irony eventually held sway: “I’m from the government. I’m here to help you.”

Bill Sandifer

Raleigh, N.C.