VIRGINIA BEACH--As Hampton Roads continues to brace for fallout from sequestration, the possibility of base closings continues to pose a threat to the region.
Third District Congressman Bobby Scott says if new rounds of the BRAC process are authorized, Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach can’t escape scrutiny.
“If it was on the list last time, it’s obviously of concern this time,” said Scott. “There’s only so many bases, something’s got to close. The easy ones were closed. We’ve had several rounds of BRAC already. We’ve closed a lot of bases. The ones left are the ones that have survived BRAC closings, so if you have another round of BRAC, obviously everything’s in jeopardy,” Scott said.
Oceana has 18 strike fighter squadrons, employs 14,000 people and contributes $1.5 billion annually to the Hampton Roads economy.
In 2005, BRAC voted to realign Oceana and sent the jet operations to Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida. However, Jacksonville citizens rejected a voter referendum to re-open that base.
Since the previous round of BRAC hearings, the city of Virginia Beach and the Commonwealth of Virginia have spent millions of dollars to buy back dozens of acres of non-conforming properties around Oceana.
Virginia Beach State Senator Frank Wagner acknowledges that BRAC is “a serious concern,” but he thinks the city and state have done a good job purchasing encroaching commercial and residential properties.
“By being proactive like we’ve been, we’re also sending a signal that this is not the place to be shutting down bases,” said Wagner.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, before leaving office in February, requested that Congress authorize more base closings. New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not said if he supports the idea or not. Neither chamber of Congress has expressed enthusiasm for the idea.
Earlier this month, House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman of Virginia’s First Congressional District held a hearing and grilled Pentagon leaders about their rationale for more closings. Wittman said at this time he sees no need to go forward with such a plan.