One OLF bill dead; another alive

Published 9:08 am Saturday, January 30, 2010

One bill is grounded, and another is in a holding pattern: That is the status of two pieces of legislation affecting the proposed location of an Outlying Landing Field in Virginia.

A Senate committee this week killed Sen. Fredrick M. Quayle’s bill requiring the Navy to get General Assembly approval before it acquires property for an OLF. The Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections voted 8-5 to “pass by indefinitely” Senate Bill 6.

However, a different OLF bill is still alive in the House. Delegate William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, is sponsoring House Bill 887, which makes land use a local matter to be decided by local officials.

“It is an attempt to prevent the Navy from locating an OLF in the three areas of Virginia” that the Navy is considering for an OLF, Barlow said. Those possible sites are:

* Cabin Point (in Surry County, bordering Prince George and Sussex counties)

* Dory (in Southampton County)

* Mason (straddling Sussex and Southampton counties, bordering Greenville County)

Barlow said that if his legislation passes, the federal government would not be able to tell local officials how to use the area’s land, giving localities control over land use.

According to Barlow, an OLF would exhaust numerous surrounding acres of land and limit property usage.

“The noise will be so loud, thousands of acres of land will be adversely affected,” he said.

Barlow’s other concern is the removal of citizens from their homes.

“If the Navy can’t purchase the land, they will condemn it,” Barlow said. “[They] will take it from people living there.”

Ted Brown, a media relations spokesman for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, says a new OLF is necessary for Navy training purposes.

“An additional OLF is critical to providing our pilots a facility where they can realistically train ashore as they operate at sea,” Brown said. “It is also critical to meeting training requirements under both routine and surge conditions.”

The Navy will continue to meet its training commitments by using available facilities until a new OLF is constructed and operational, Brown said.

No final decision has been made on the location of an OLF. According to Brown, the Navy is preparing an environmental impact statement on five sites – the three in southeastern Virginia and two in northeastern North Carolina.

Barlow predicts his bill will face a lot of opposition from Hampton Roads legislators.

“People near Oceana are protective of Oceana,” Barlow said. “And some interpret [the bill] as a threat.”

HB 887 has been assigned to the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. A subcommittee may discuss the proposal next week. Barlow is hopeful legislators will approve the bill.

“We’re going to try, but we can’t tell whether or not it will pass,” Barlow said. “Chances are no better than 50-50.”