Oceana Naval Air Station, Virginia Beach's largest employer, was added to the list yesterday of military bases across the country that may be closed or shrunk.
The vote on Oceana by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission put a second Hampton Roads facility on the list, in addition to the Army's Fort Monroe. 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 denounced the action of the commission, whose members have said residential growth around Oceana has increased the risk to people living in the area.
Oceana, a Navy "master jet base," hosts F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets that are deployed aboard 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 Rep. Thelma D. Drake (R-Va.), whose district has eight military bases, including Oceana and Fort Monroe.
Similar reactions have been heard 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 yesterday will 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 recommend realigning or closing Oceana. The commission's final list is due to reach President Bush in September.
Among the dozen bases and smaller installations added yesterday were the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, which the Pentagon had identified for downsizing but which now could be closed, 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 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. But the Navy has been saying it would keep Oceana open for now and pair it with a training facility, Gordy said.
In the 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 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 F. Willard, vice chief of naval operations, said that the Navy is pleased with Oceana and that issues of encroachment "have been and are manageable."
The Pentagon estimates that closing Oceana and moving the jets temporarily would cost $494 million, Gordy said.
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.