BRAC decision may be today

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Political and military leaders across Virginia are crossing their fingers this morning, hoping their battle to keep Oceana Naval Air Station alive will prove successful.

The Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission is expected to decide this week, possibly as early as today, on whether to recommend moving Oceana’s jets to Cecil Field, a former Navy air base in Jacksonville, Fla.

State and local leaders have been scrambling to address encroachment concerns ever since the federal based-closing commission identified Oceana – which employs more than 14,000 civilians from around the region – as a target for closure earlier this year.

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Last week, a delegation from Virginia traveled to Washington D.C., to testify before the BRAC commission.

Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera E. Oberndorf, who testified at the hearing, came away saying she is &uot;cautiously optimistic&uot; that the commission will keep Oceana open.

Arthur Collins, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, believes the commission is leaning toward Florida.

&uot;But Oceana is worth over $1 billion a year to the local economy,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s worth fighting for.&uot;

Not so, says Dennis Gartman, an economist and member of Suffolk’s Industrial Development Authority.

&uot;I think we are doing the wrong thing by trying to keep the base open,&uot; said Gartman. &uot;I think the best thing that could happen right now would be if Oceana would close.

&uot;Land that is not taxable right now would become taxable…and you will have created new areas for housing and business growth. Private enterprise is always better at creating economic activity than the government.&uot;

Should Oceana close, both Virginia Beach and surrounding communities with employees and businesses that serve the naval base would feel the sting, said E. Dana Dickens III, president and chief executive officer of the Hampton Roads Partnership.

Small businesses near the base – restaurants, grocers, car dealerships and the like – would see a significant loss of business. But the closure would also have a trickle down impact on Suffolk and other Hampton Roads cities, Dickens said.

&uot;The loss of Oceana would impact all of us,&uot; said Dickens. &uot;Although most of the folks (who work on base) live in Virginia Beach, a lot of them live in other parts of Hampton Roads.

&uot;A lot of suppliers who sell items to that base have their businesses in Chesapeake, Suffolk and other surrounding communities.&uot;

Although he believes the region would hurt for the first couple of years, Gartman maintains that closing Oceana would reap rewards for the region in the long haul.

&uot;I understand the great concerns and fears that people have and understand that things will be worse for a year or two,&uot; he said. &uot;If there is anything history shows us, it is that a vacuum gets filled.

&uot;Things will be worse for a year or two, then they will get dramatically better in 10 years. And if I’m wrong, it’s because it will occur faster than that.&uot;