Mending fences benefits us all

Published 7:16 am Thursday, February 8, 2007

By Staff
It may seem too late, but the Navy and the City of Virginia Beach, Va., are mending fences.
The Navy and city are close to signing an agreement they hope will improve their relationship and communication about development around Oceana Naval Air Station, according to The Virginian Pilot. The decision may involve a place 130 miles away, but it couldn’t hit any closer to home for those of us in the Washington area.
The air station and the noise associated with it have been a fixture in Virginia Beach for more than 60 years. Until recently, there has been something of a peaceful relationship. However, as the population of the city soared, more and more residents started to complain about jet noise. When the Navy brought in F/A-18 Hornet fighters in the 1990s, the complaints grew even louder than the fighter jets. Now that older F-14 Tomcat fighters are being replaced with even louder Super Hornets, the issue has come to a head.
It is in the best interest of the Navy and Virginia Beach to reach a common ground.
Under the agreement, Navy and city-planning officials will meet regularly about potential Oceana development. The Navy will also ease up on its objections to some of the incompatible projects in the resort area, and developers will be required to fill out paperwork defending their projects in the highest-noise zones, the newspaper reported.
The Navy has every reason to be cautious. The federal government is looking at paying out $38 million to 2,100 homeowners who say the jet noise devalued their property. You could question how somebody who buys property near an air base could turn around and sue the Navy, but such is our legal system. It’s like buying a house near a landfill because the price was cheap and then complaining about the smell. In the case of the Virginia Beach lawsuits, appraisers say the plaintiffs’ properties did not appreciate as fast as similar properties outside of jet-noise zones. The Navy can contend that jets of some form have been a fact of life in that region for decades and the buyers should have been aware.
Better relations between the Navy and Virginia Beach are in everybody’s best interest. The outlying landing field the Navy proposes to build on the Beaufort-Washington counties line is in large part an outgrowth of the lack of planning around the auxiliary field the Navy already has at Fentress in Chesapeake.
The Navy needs to make sure that open land between Oceana and Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field in Chesapeake remains minimally developed, according to John Lauterbach, a legal adviser at Oceana.
Deputy City Attorney Bill Macali said he still expects that there will be disagreements, but that they will occur less often, The Pilot reported.
The city and developers also will enforce the Federal Aviation Administration’s height requirements on potential projects, Lauterbach said.
Under the agreement, if a project meets the city’s zoning requirements and design guidelines, Navy officials will not object, even if the proposal is incompatible in a high-noise area. Once again, we hope that those who build near a master jet base do so with knowing what they are getting into. The U.S. military needs a base and a place to train, and that place has been Virginia Beach. The infrastructure is there, the people are there and the tradition is there. It is not too late for the Navy and Virginia Beach to mend fences. It may require federal buyouts of property that was allowed to be developed improperly, but even that is a small price to pay compared to the purchase of 30,000 acres in North Carolina and the construction of an OLF here. Unlike the folks in Virginia Beach who bought land knowing they were near a jet base, the people here did not, and they have a right to voice their concerns.