Va. Beach to blame for Navy’s interest in Western Tidewater

Published 10:28 am Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Navy’s decision to pursue use of Franklin Municipal Airport raises a number of legitimate concerns; safety, quality-of-life issues and environmental and financial considerations all must be studied and taken into account.

And they will be.

The Navy has a process it goes through to ensure that all those issues and more are properly studied and addressed. Just like the process the Navy began over three years ago to study Western Tidewater as a potential host for a new outlying landing field.

That process, by the way, is ongoing.

A number of people have asked me, since I have been actively opposed to the OLF project almost from the beginning, what the difference is between the two projects. My answer is simple: quite a bit.

The Franklin airport in Isle of Wight County is already a living, breathing, operational aviation facility, and the Navy has a contractual, real interest in the facility and is entitled to use it for its training purposes.

And albeit on a smaller scale, aviation activity and the noise associated with it already exist at and around the airport. It would also require, as far as I know, little new construction or alteration to meet the Navy’s requirements.

However, an OLF would require the Navy to condemn thousands of acres of personal property, completely alter the existing agricultural landscape, doing irreparable damage to the environment, and create a level of noise that is unbearable and unhealthy.

These statements are not merely my opinions; they are facts.

Yet for the differences, there are similarities. In each situation, residents and local officials were denied an opportunity to be part of the Navy’s decision-making process, and were merely notified of the Navy’s intent to proceed with plans after a decision had already been made to do so.

There would also be an undeniable impact, obviously to varying degrees, upon quality of life. An OLF would be louder than the airport by far, but change is change.

But in my opinion, the reason these two proposals, for all their differences, are inexorably linked is the same reason we have been confronted with this debate in the first place: because the City of Virginia Beach has created an environment that is untenable for the Navy and unsafe for its residents and has caused instability and uncertainty regarding the future of Naval Air Station Oceana.

If the Navy would use NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress in Chesapeake to their fullest extent, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

But after years of development and encroachment around both facilities, the Navy has chosen to curtail when and how it flies in and out of both airfields, in order to ease the complaints about jet noise leveled by the very residents who contributed to the overdevelopment.

The threat has been real and imminent for years that NAS Oceana, the Navy’s East Coast master jet base and the economic lifeblood of Virginia Beach, would be forced to close and relocate if Virginia Beach did not roll back some existing encroachment and halt further incompatible development around the base.

Yet even this week, another article in the Virginian-Pilot discussed the city’s desire to further develop the oceanfront with high-rise hotels and whether the development is compatible with Oceana’s mission. Why even consider further development if you are truly concerned with losing the military presence you claim to value?

So if you’re upset with the Navy’s plans to use the Franklin airport, I understand. Just remember that it wasn’t the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors or the Franklin City Council who put us in this position.