August 4, 2005

Virginia base closure leaves no alternatives -Navy

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Closing Virginia's Oceana Naval Air
station would leave the U.S. Navy with no viable alternative
for an East Coast fighter pilot training base, a top admiral
and Virginia lawmakers said on Thursday.

The Base Realignment and Closings Commission voted last
month to add Oceana, in Virginia Beach, to the list of bases
being considered for closure because of encroachment by
residential and commercial development.

At a commission hearing, Chief of Naval Operations Adm.
Michael Mullen said the Navy would not be able to build a
facility elsewhere, at a cost of $1.5 billion to $2 billion,
and relocate within the six-year closing deadline required by
the base closings law.

"We looked at alternatives and we studied other options and
none of them made much sense," he said, adding that was why the
Navy did not put the base on the original closing list released
in May.

Once surrounded by farmland, Oceana is in the middle of a
growing suburban area, and nearby homes and shopping centers
have spawned complaints about the thunderous noise from F/A-18

Base closings commission Chairman Anthony Principi said a
recent visit to the air station revealed about 200 homes had
received approval for construction in areas considered to be
potential crash zones around its runways.

Flight restrictions meant pilots could not practice landing
patterns identical to those they would need to land on aircraft
carriers, he said.

He said the commission added the base to the closing list,
along with seven other facilities, because the panel had an
obligation to explore alternatives for better training of
military personnel.

Commissioner Samuel Skinner, a former transportation
secretary, said the current round of base closures -- the first
in a decade -- offered an opportunity to replace Oceana with a
better East Coast training site. Rapid development on the
Eastern seaboard might mean that would not be an option in a
few years, he said.

Among alternatives the commission will examine is the
former Cecil Field Naval Air Station near Jacksonville,
Florida, which closed in 1999. Ironically, most of its planes
were shifted to Oceana, which has about 11,800 employees,
including over 9,200 active-duty military personnel.

Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen told the commission
that despite the suburban encroachment, Oceana offered
unfettered airspace for training missions and the local
community had taken steps to restrict development around the

The commission must submit its closure list to President
Bush by Sept. 8. He and Congress can accept or reject the list
in its entirety but make no changes.