Navy Flight Plan Is A Terrible Noise

Attorney Barry Steinberg of Washing­ton leads the opposition to the Navy locating an Outlying Landing Field in southeastern Virginia. One site is in Surry County, across the James from greater Williamsburg. Steinberg earlier defended the Army against challenges to environmental impact statements. Last year the Town of Blackstone asked him to help fight an OLF at Fort Pickett.

What makes OLFs unique?

Military environmental issues are different. The United States (1) enjoys sovereign immunity, (2) has the power of condemnation, and (3) has in this case a Navy of lawyers to support them without regard for the financial implications. Communities are at a disadvantage when challenging the federal government.

How do OLFs hurt communities?

They (1) take real estate off the tax roles (because you cannot tax the federal government), (2) generate very little economic benefit for a community, (3) are noisy and disruptive, (4) depress adjacent and nearby property values, and (5) alter the quality of life of a rural, quiet community.

Other than that…

There is no real benefit, from a local community perspective.

And landowners?

An OLF results in loss of land, either by purchase or condemnation. It can alter road patterns, split property into two parts divided by the OLF, and produce excessive noise for adjacent and nearby property owners.

The Navy says it’s not so noisy.

The Navy’s metric is inadequate. It focuses on an “average” noise factor, as if a single event were spread out over a 24-hour period. That defies logic. If I hit you with a certain force, you are not likely to be receptive to the notion that the initial pain is lessened if it were spread over a 24-hour period.

The Navy cries distortions.

What would you expect them to say? The Navy does not dispute that the planes are noisy. It does not dispute that it will have to clear-cut thousands of acres of land. It does not dispute that if it cannot obtain the land by purchase, it will take it involuntarily.

Further, the Navy does not dispute that the land will come off the tax roles, and it does not dispute that NAS Oceana has serious encroachment. The reason the Navy does not dispute these is because the statements are unalterably true.

What communities are at risk?

Rural areas with low population density, mostly farming. If you wanted to purchase or condemn 30,000 acres, would you select an area where a senior senator on the Armed Services Committee lives?

What are the chances of winning?

Hard to say. This is a David vs. Goliath battle. But the affected communities are united and committed to preserve their way of life, which an OLF will destroy.

Anything you like?

There is no doubt that an OLF serves a legitimate public purpose. But it is hard to accept the notion that they can just grab more land, when they are already the largest single landowner in the United States and the Defense Department has been shuttering bases across the country.

Why can’t they go elsewhere?

The Navy tells us that the Delmarva Peninsula cannot accommodate their need, Cherry Point just won’t work, they cannot share with the Marines at their OLFs, Oceana is encroached, intensity of use renders Fentress inadequate, and on and on.

So all they can think of to solve their problem is to move into pristine, historic farmland, disrupt the lives of thousands of citizens and have surrogates lecture the affected communities about patriotism.

The Navy expects 500-600 jobs and $80 million during construction. Is that accurate?

$80 million is a gross understatement of the cost of constructing an OLF. Current estimates are that the Navy will spend in excess of $250 million. And “during construction” is not the long-term revenue stream that would warrant economic acceptance of such a serious alteration of the quality of life in a rural, historically rich environment.

What’s your best argument?

The Navy is using the OLF issue to fix the Oceana problem, and it doesn’t. The Navy needs to look at this problem over many years and identify what its needs will be in 25 years, not just tomorrow. Also, the simple fact is that these citizens are not for sale. Farms that have operated for over 100 years would be destroyed. Families that have been on the land for generations would be displaced. Folks who left Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to enjoy a bucolic pace would wake up to the “sound of freedom.” There is no price tag on what they have.

If not Surry, where?

This is the heart of the issue. Why does the Navy need anotherOLF? In 2003 the Navy studied this issue and concluded that it did not need another OLF to support Oceana.

What has changed since 2003?

The number of aircraft has not increased. The encroachment is as bad as it was then, and the training requirement has not changed.

So why build a new OLF?

Before taking private landowners’ property involuntarily, the Navy needs to examine the alternatives based on existing assets. But when you examine the Navy’s expressed need for an OLF, you find that it has limited itself to consideration of five sites and doing nothing. Such an obvious lack of perspective demonstrates that this is an effort to acquire real estate without serious examination of the alternatives.

Has the Navy looked elsewhere?

By law the Navy is required to consider the reasonable alternatives. It has failed to demonstrate such consideration. In essence, the Navy has indicated that either it will get more land or Navy pilots will not be properly trained. And the land is limited to five identified sites, which must be proximate to Oceana.

Sounds reasonable.

But the Navy is performing no evaluation of Oceana, with all of its well-identified defects and shortcomings. At one of the scoping meetings, a Navy pilot admitted that pilots must alter their patterns and operations at Oceana because of encroachment and noise concerns. The Navy refuses to examine the long-term viability of Oceana despite its current shortcomings.

The Navy promises to minimize noise. How’s the track record?

Ask the folks in Virginia Beach who sued the Navy for inverse condemnation. Perhaps the Navy intends to issue earplugs to residents. Seriously, if you train like you fight, what actions can you take that would make a real difference?

How far does the noise travel?

It depends on altitude, flight patterns, cloud cover, and weather conditions. The Navy has been unable to tell us the flight routes, so we have no way of knowing who will be most affected by noise. That is not misinformation. That is a lack of information.

What about greater Williamsburg?

That depends on the flight path. We do not know, and the Navy says that until it studies the issue, it will not know either.

And Surry nuclear power plant?

I expect the Navy will avoid the nuclear power plant, but whether flight patterns will go north or south is unknown.

Why should we care if the OLF is 10-15 miles away?

Because the Navy planes may have to fly over or near you to get there.

What’s the danger to historic sites?

Vibrations caused by aircraft can break windows and plaster. At historic sites, replacing a pane of glass is different when you are trying to maintain historical integrity. Until the Navy announces the selected site and the flight paths to it from Oceana and the return path, we do not know what the impacts at Jamestown Island will be.

What’s the best course to fight?

Organize, share input, present a common front, and do not hesitate to get your elected officials involved. Make this an election year issue. The closing date for submission of comments for scoping is June 7, so there is not a lot of time to identify the issues that are important that you think the Navy should consider.

Should Williamsburg and James City be involved in that fight?

I am surprised that they are not already involved.

What’s next?

After scoping closes on June 7, the Navy will prepare a draft environmental impact statement for public review and comment. We will probably see that document in early spring 2009. There will be public meetings where citizens will have an opportunity to comment on the document in public, and in writing. The Navy will take those inputs and produce a final environmental impact statement, probably next summer.

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