In a move that could end up favoring their state over the objections of most fellow Democrats, Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and James Webb have introduced a controversial bill to allow the development of a small plot of land on the Eastern Shore.
The measure, which passed the House on Tuesday on a mostly party-line 240-164 vote, would allow Accomack County to use the 32-acre parcel as part of Wallops Research Park, designed to lure companies
seeking to do business with the neighboring NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
The purpose of the bill — and the reason that 161 House Democrats voted against it this week — is to lift restrictions on the land originally imposed when it was donated to the county in 1976 by the federal government, free of charge, for use as parkland.
Democrats have said allowing development of the land, without making the county pay the federal government fair market value for it, would set a “devastating precedent.” Defenders of the measure — including its original author, Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) — say that the land is currently empty and unused, and that the federal government was asking for an unreasonable amount of money in exchange for the property.
Having the support of Virginia’s two Democratic senators should help the bill in that chamber, though it’s possible some non-legislative accommodation can be reached.
“We’re still talking to the Interior Department to see if there might be some way to move forward on this unique situation,” said Warner spokesman Kevin Hall. “If that doesn’t work, we want to make sure there’s another path toward a resolution.”