Oceana Added to Closings List

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; 8:08 PM

Oceana Naval Air Station, Virginia Beach's largest employer, was added to the list today of military bases across the country that may be closed or shrunk.

The vote by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission puts a second Hampton Roads facility on the list, in addition to Fort Monroe Army base. The region, in southeastern Virginia, has the largest concentration of U.S. military in the world. Some 15,000 people work at Oceana, including civilians.

Local, state and federal officials quickly condemned the action of the commission, whose members have said that residential growth around Oceana has created a danger for people on the ground. Oceana is the Navy's master jet base, where teams train on and deploy the F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets that land on aircraft carriers.

"This is a wake-up call, not just for Virginia, but for every base in the country and every one of those localities. If we value the presence of the military in our communities, we need to protect them in terms of developmental encroachment," said Tom Gordy, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.), whose 2nd district includes eight military bases, including Oceana and Fort Monroe.

Similar reactions have been going on across the country since May, when the Defense Department submitted its list of hundreds of bases to shut down or downsize.

Bases added to the list today will now be visited by two members of the commission and public hearings will be held before the nine-member commission votes in August; it takes seven members to realign or close Oceana. The commission must get its final list to President Bush in September.

Among the dozen bases and smaller installations added today were the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, which the Pentagon had identified for downsizing but which now faces the possibility of closure, and the Navy Broadway Complex in San Diego, for which the Pentagon had not proposed any change.

The Navy has been talking for some time about its need for unfettered training space, somewhere with more room than Oceana, which is 3,000 acres.

Officials have said they would like 30,000 acres, and have been trying to purchase property in North Carolina. However, the Navy has been saying it would keep Oceana open for now and pair it with a training facility, Gordy said.

Long term, the Pentagon has said it wants to replace Oceana with a new master base on the East Coast -- but not during the current round of military base closings. The commission has asked the Pentagon before about the possibility of closing Oceana earlier and moving its jets temporarily to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

Testifying Monday before the commission, Adm. Robert Willard, vice chief of naval operations, said the Navy is pleased with Oceana and that issues of encroachment "have been and are manageable."

The Pentagon estimates that closing down Oceana and moving the jets temporarily would cost $494 million, said Gordy.

Putting Oceana on the list is "illogical, shortsighted and wasteful," Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said in a statement. "In Virginia Beach, every time a jet flies over -- people say, 'That is the sound of freedom.'"

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said in an interview last night that he was surprised that Oceana was added to the list.

"What we're seeing today is wholesale additions and subtractions. It's unprecedented in the BRAC process," he said. "But this is not the final decision. It's one more step in the process."

Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.

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