Navy plan didn’t live up to billing

Published 8:32 am Friday, February 18, 2011

Monday’s vote by the Franklin City Council to end discussions with the Navy about the use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training — and the Navy’s subsequent announcement that it will look elsewhere — seemingly brings to an end one of the most divisive issues in the city’s history.

On a motion by Ward 3 Councilman Greg McLemore, the council went against Mayor Jim Councill’s wishes to delay a decision and voted 5-2 to end consideration of the Navy proposal. Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard cast the other dissenting vote.

The city and Navy made the mistake early on of billing the partnership as one of significant economic benefit to Franklin. Santa Claus was paying the city an early visit, citizens were told.

Clearly, Western Tidewater is in desperate need of an economic shot in the arm. But while the Navy talked of a “win-win” partnership, its resulting proposal offered little financial incentive, if any, for the city to take on the noise and safety risk of turboprop aircraft buzzing homes and businesses for up to 200 nights a year.

In fact, by estimate of the city manager, it would have cost the city $3 million per year to fulfill contractual obligations spelled out in the Navy’s’ “performance work statement.” In exchange, the Navy had estimated that it would pay the city $700,000 to $1 million annually.

Given the economic hole that this community is attempting to climb out of, a net loss of $2 million to the city treasury is not the kind of shot in the arm Franklin needs.

Throw in intense opposition from many citizens and growing cynicism about the secretive nature of the council’s deliberations, and council members had little choice but to pull the plug.