VIRGINIA BEACH - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has made it official, formally requesting at least one new round of base closings in 2105.
That raises concerns about the future of Naval Air Station Oceana, which landed on the last Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission's list in 2005.
“This process is an imperfect process and there are upfront costs for BRAC. This budget adds $2.4 billion over the next five years to pay for those costs. But in the long term, there are significant savings, as we've seen from past BRAC decisions,” he said Wednesday.
Hampton Roads leaders have been warning about Oceana for weeks.
“I think we should be worried about BRAC. Oceana was on the list last time they had one,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd D.) said two weeks ago.
On Tuesday, Old Dominion University Economics Professor Jim Koch briefed the Virginia Beach City Council and called Oceana “susceptible.” Citing changing Pentagon priorities, Koch said it’s possible Oceana will lose air wings in the coming years.
Base leaders insist Oceana is still vital to the Navy. Commanding Officer Capt. Bob Geis said, “We’re a two-Ocean Navy, really a global Navy. I think we’re going to have homeports on both coasts and we’re going to need a Master Jet Base on both coasts, so I’d be surprised If the Navy decided that we’re going to eventually not need Oceana. Oceana is the Master Jet Base for the east coast.”
The City of Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Navy have partnered these past eight years to spend $15 million a year to buy residential and commercial properties that encroach on Oceana.
Councilman Bill DeSteph said that effort will continue.
“We’re going to do everything, working at the federal, state and local levels to keep fighting for and working with the Navy to keep Oceana here in Virginia Beach,” he stated.
The Navy says Oceana has an annual payroll of $761 million and its annual economic impact on the Hampton Roads region is $1.35 billion.
The base is home to 18 strike fighter squadrons and employs more than 14,000 people.