Crash could mean end of Oceana

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Friday’s events in Virginia Beach are a stark reminder that while we are pleased no one was seriously injured, the potential for disaster in the resort city is very real.

For years, the U.S. Navy warned Virginia Beach leaders to control the development that encroached upon the gates of Naval Air Station Oceana. And until the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission threatened to relocate the motor of the city’s economic engine to a more remote area, city leaders paid little attention to their pleas.

The opportunity for Virginia Beach to realize short-term financial gain took precedent over the value of long-term economic stability. Now, with the crash of an F/A 18 in a residential community, the issue of Oceana’s future comes into question again.

To ask hard questions about the location of the East Coast’s master jet base should not indicate a lack of support for the military. If we have the Navy’s best interest in mind, we should question whether or not it has the facilities to carry out its objectives.

In our opinion, when it comes to Oceana, the Navy does not. There is too much development around the base to ensure safety for residents and pilots.

To argue over who is at fault is an exercise that only wastes time, and to date, has produced no solution. The decision of the Commonwealth and Virginia Beach to spend $15 million per year to buy land around Oceana seems to have been an example of too little, too late.

If Oceana and Virginia Beach are again forced to undergo the intense scrutiny they faced in 2005 — and all indications point to another round of BRAC hearings in the not too distant future — there is a reasonable chance that Oceana will be shuttered, or at least significantly repurposed.

Should the base close, the short-term economic impact for the region would be significant. In the long run, the region and state have the opportunity to survive and prosper.

Private sector studies have shown that if the land on which Oceana sits was turned over to the city, the economic impact from development would more than make up for the loss of the base.

Virginia Beach officials should be working feverishly to negotiate such a deal. And state leaders would do well to make it clear there are localities in Virginia who would stand in line to host the Navy.

What will be required, however, is substantial courage on the part of elected officials and a willingness to face the facts. There seems to be a small window of opportunity for state and city leaders to do that.

We hope they take advantage before the future of Naval aviation includes neither Hampton Roads nor Virginia.