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Legislation to block OLF is grounded

RICHMOND — Legislation that could have stopped the U.S. Navy from locating an Outlying Landing Field in the Tidewater area has been denied permission for takeoff this year. But OLF opponents aren’t giving up.

The House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee quietly killed House Bill 887, sponsored by Delegate William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield. The panel failed to act on the bill by Feb. 16, the deadline for legislation to win approval from its originating chamber.

But Barlow said the fight isn’t over.

“We knew in the beginning that it would be an uphill battle. We are certainly not giving up and not going to drop this. We are going to continue to try to get the Navy to reconsider possible locations for the OLF,” Barlow said.

Two bills aimed at blocking the location of an OLF in the Tidewater area were filed for consideration during the General Assembly’s 2010 session:

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, R-Suffolk, would have required that the U.S. Navy ask permission from the General Assembly before acquiring property for an OLF. In January, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 8-5 that the bill be “passed by indefinitely,” thus killing it.

 HB 887 would have ensured that local officials could control land use and could stop the Navy from taking land for an OLF. It was left in the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee after a subcommittee recommended the bill be tabled.

Barlow said HB 887 failed partly because of strong opposition from people affiliated with Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.

“The bill is dead because the city of Virginia Beach was adamantly opposed to this legislation, and they fought very hard against it,” Barlow said. “The state of Virginia will do what we can as a commonwealth to support Oceana.”

Quayle also blamed the legislation’s defeat on the opposition from the Navy and representatives from Oceana.

“My counties are being asked to solve Virginia Beach problems, and they are not getting any of the benefits that Virginia Beach gets,” Quayle said.

Tony Clark, the chairman of Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, agreed that the OLF legislation was an uphill battle.

“We weren’t surprised that it wasn’t passed into law,” Clark said. “It is disappointing that a legislature would not have the courage to have an up-or-down vote on a piece of legislation, but nonetheless we thank Quayle and Barlow for introducing the legislation supporting our position.”

The U.S. Fleet Forces Command declined to comment on the failed legislation.

The Navy is considering five sites for an OLF – three in southeastern Virginia and two in northeastern North Carolina. The Virginia sites are in Cabin Point (in Surry County, bordering Prince George and Sussex counties); in Dory (in Southampton County); and in Mason (straddling Sussex and Southampton counties, bordering Greenville County.