Navy cannot say if different OLF sites will be considered in 2014

Published 10:23 am Saturday, January 29, 2011

SEBRELL—When Barbara Pond learned Thursday the Navy had suspended until 2014 its plans to build an outlying landing field for Navy fighter pilots, she so wanted to share the news with her late husband.

“He would’ve had a big smile on his face,” said Pond, who faced losing her 500-acre Wakefield-area farm to the outlying land field. “I hope he knows the good news.”

Jack Pond, who died on Dec. 12 at age 77, was a leader in the fight against the OLF, which could’ve impacted up to 30,000 acres in Dory, near Sebrell, and removed property from the county tax base.

“We were right in the middle of it,” Pond said. “Our whole farm and everything would’ve had to been given up.”

The Navy three years ago proposed five options for a new OLF, which would be used by fighter pilots stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. The sites are in Southampton, Sussex and Surry counties and Gates and Camden counties in North Carolina.

The Navy has decided to focus its efforts on placing squadrons on the West Coast first, beginning in 2015, according to a news release. Placing a field on the East Coast will begin no earlier than 2014.

Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Macapagal on Friday couldn’t say whether or not the site selection process for the East Coast would start over again.

“At that time, in 2014, we’re going to have to re-evaluate it,” Macapagal said from his Washington, D.C., office.

State Delegate Rosyln Tyler, D-Jarratt, who represents Sussex and Southampton counties, said she also hasn’t heard whether the Navy will begin the site selection over again.

“I think with the economics we have in Washington, they will start the process all over again,” Tyler said. “I think it will also depend on what’s going to come out of committee on Capitol Hill.”

She said she was “elated” at the Navy’s decision.

“It’s been a long time that we’ve been fighting against the OLF coming to our area,” Tyler said. “We made trips to Washington and held town meetings. It’s good to see good benefits from our hard work.”

Washington, D.C., attorney Barry Steinberg, who was hired by Southampton, Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Greensville counties to fight the OLF, said the Navy’s decision doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s a giant step forward as far as the Navy doing the right kind of analysis, putting all the variables into the equation,” Steinberg said. “It’s not a surprise. It’s overdue.”

He said he has no idea as to whether or not the Navy will start a new site selection process in 2014.

“I believe the Navy did mostly the right thing by putting it on hold, and we’re delighted with this. We’ve been under a cloud since early 2008. It had a depressing effect on real estate values and impeded some development opportunities.”

Steinberg also commended the volunteers who fought the OLF.

“These are the private citizens, who didn’t get paid a nickel for what they did,” he said. “It’s one thing to hire somebody to clean your house, but it will never be as clean as when you get down on your hands and knees. These people had a very personal stake in the outcome.”