The Army is investigating the death of a 23-year-old …
The Army is investigating the death of a 23-year-old …
The 22nd Marine Firefighting Symposium is held only in Hampton …
A U.S. Navy spokesman says a Virginia Beach-based sailor was …
Military leaders from across the region are exploring new …
A dating-auction website had ranked all branches of the …
NATO says two of its service members and four civilian …
Updated: Thursday, 26 Apr 2012, 7:10 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 26 Apr 2012, 4:59 PM EDT
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Government and military officials are worried Naval Air Station Oceana may be targeted in the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) hearing, so they're taking all the necessary precautions.
In 2005 , Hampton Roads nearly lost the Master Jet Base in the hearings. Those involved seven years ago admit the region came close to disaster due, in part, to bad preparation.
Today, it is a much different scene, with experts spending everyday talking about the next BRAC and how to put into context the recent Oceana F/A 18-D Hornet crash , which destroyed a massive part of the Mayfair Mews Apartments complex. Even though no lives were lost that Good Friday, the next BRAC may not look at Oceana so favorably.
The next BRAC hearing has not been set, but will likely take place in 2013 or 2015.
In 2005, BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi single handily put Oceana on the hit list. At the time, Principi said, "While we recognize the recent steps taken by local governments to control future encroachment, the past record of development creates a sense of uncertainty."
Principi was referring to the City of Virginia Beach and critics who say the city has failed to address the encroachment issues around Oceana.
In 2005, then Virginia Governor Mark Warner knew Hampton Roads had dropped the ball, telling Principi and the BRAC, "We've heard the shot across the bow."
Warner, now a U.S. Senator, told WAVY.com, "There was a certain amount of assumption of ours that we wouldn't take a bullet."
Principi, exploiting his BRAC connections, now claims to have "the most experienced BRAC team in the nation." His consulting group, The Principi Group , now advises communities on how to benefit from BRAC. His major client is the state of Florida, the state that nearly took Oceana's jets in 2005.
Back in 2005, Principi, who had been President George W. Bush's Secretary of Veterans Affairs, pushed very hard to get Oceana on the hit list when the base had not been on the list before. Former President Bush's brother, Jeb, was the governor of Florida at the time, and testified before the BRAC that the jets should be moved from Oceana to Cecil Field.
Many at the time believed there to be a conflict of interest. The Navy brass also all believed Oceana was the best site for the jets. In the end, Principi said, "...there appears to be no viable option for Oceana." Residents of Jacksonville, Fla. also voted against the jet transfer in a referendum.
Since 2005, Hampton Roads has organized at every level of government to prevent what happened to Fort Monroe from happening at Oceana. Fort Monroe was decommissioned in 2011 as an active base as a result of the 2005 BRAC.
One group working to protect the future of Oceana is the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance , also known as HRMFAA. WAVY.com asked HRMFAA Executive Director Craig Quigley whether he considers Principi the enemy.
"You would have to consider him not friendly to Oceana, Virginia, Hampton Roads, yes," Quigley answered.
HRMFAA was born out of the near 2005 BRAC disaster.
But, Quigley said that near disaster proved to be a big wake up call.
"...there was no single organization whose job it was every day to keep their eyes on the ball of what's happening to the military facilities in the region."
HRMFAA works hand-in-hand with Virginia's Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Secretary Terrie Suit.
"In 2005, we had desperate programs, desperate initiatives. We were not a region bonded to preserve our military activities," Quigley explained.
Prior to her appointment as Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security secretary, Suit was a member of the House of Delegates, writing laws to make Hampton Roads compliant with Principi's BRAC demands. Since 2005, the state and Virginia Beach has spent $62 million buying land to reduce density around Oceana.
"So, there are many things BRAC asked us to do to alleviate their concerns, and we did everyone of them," Suit told WAVY.com. She also pointed out the only BRAC demand not fulfilled was actually condemning property to take homes. All the buy backs were voluntary.
State and local officials are also in daily contact with federal leaders, like Senator Warner.
"The Navy actually cites Virginia Beach and Virginia as examples of communities that get it. They are trying to be good long term partners," Warner said.
Principi was also listening to Virginia Beach residents, like Retired Captain John Shick.
Shick lives in one of the worst noise zones around Oceana, and is a founding member of Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise (CCAJN). CCAJN filed a lawsuit against the Navy for noise violations, which resulted in a $34 million judgment. But, Shick was not part of the suit and did not receive one cent.
"Our effort was always focused on what could be done to make living conditions better, and safety was a concern that currently existed....we were never anti-Oceana," Shick told WAVY.com.
CCAJN has since dissolved,
but takes credit for talking up the issue of encroachment and jet noise long before the 2005 BRAC. Shick said in the beginning, the lip service the city gave to the issues is what got Principi's attention.
During all those discussions concerning Oceana, CCAJN never had a recent crash to cite.
"I think if there were a BRAC being held right now, this would have been a pivotal thing that could have changed the whole ball game ."
However, Quigley disagrees.
'I don't believe any single event like that would be the over-reaching reason for the Navy to leave Oceana," Quigley counterd.
But, Quigley and the HRMFAA are prepared for the issues surrounding the April 6 jet crash to come up.
"Any place you fly airplanes, whether they are military or commercial or privately held in the United States, there is a risk. There is a risk every time you take to the sky and having something go wrong," Quigley added.
Efforts are also underway to dedicate Fentress Field in Chesapeake solely to Oceana jet training . The E-2C Hawkeyes and the C-2 Greyhounds, which are prop planes, also train at Fentress, but could be moved to a new alternative landing field in Emporia or Wallops Island. Environmental assessments on both sites should be complete this fall.
Former Oceana Commanding Officer Skip Zobel stands by Oceana's stellar safety record over the years.
"You can have encroachment around all airports around the country, so it's the cost of doing business...I do not think there is any ammunition against Oceana, because they are doing everything they can. The safety record speaks for itself," Zobel said.
Quigley and Suit told WAVY.com the basic strategy for the next BRAC hearing is to not give the Navy any reason to leave Oceana. Both believe Oceana remains a useful facility, providing all the training capacity the Navy requires. They said Oceana also meets the following BRAC criteria:
The scare provided by Principi has only served to unified officials in Hampton Roads to work smarter and more efficiently in order to keep our military assets right where they are.
"In an ironic way, maybe we should thank Principi," Quigley said.
Principi did not return WAVY.com's phone calls for an interview.
Opinions that are derogatory, attack other users or are offensive in nature may be removed. WAVY is not responsible for the content posted in this comment section. We reserve the right to remove any offensive or off-topic remark or thread. To mark a comment for review by a moderator, click "Flag as inappropriate."