Sailing Through Familiar Waters


In the irony department, this one’s a gusher.

In February, a who’s who of local and state politicians – Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and others – soundly criticized the Chesapeake City Council for approving a 22-home development on Mount Pleasant Road after the Navy had raised objections to it.

Residents and council members who supported the project seemed befuddled by the swift and blunt reaction, but the rebuke was deserved.

The council’s vote, later reversed, had trampled very clear, very direct and very familiar warnings by top Navy officials not to further encroach upon Fentress, an auxiliary landing field for Oceana Naval Air Station.

The message: You do things like this, and you endanger the Navy’s presence – and all of its jobs and all of its economic bounty – in this region.

But now, roughly four months later, many of those very same local and state officials are clamoring for approval of the encroachment of all encroachments – drilling for oil and natural gas off Virginia’s coast.

This, despite very clear, very direct and very familiar warnings from the Navy that drilling would interfere with its mission.

In a 2006 review of proposed drilling off the coast of Virginia in an area known as “Lease Sale 220,” the Pentagon made its objections known – “the Navy requires unencumbered access to the full expanse of the operations area.”

Four years later, after another assessment of the proposal, the Pentagon stated that 72 percent of the “Lease Sale 220 area should have no oil or gas activity due to our intensive training and testing in the area and the danger this would present to oil and gas industry personnel and property.”

Yet Sen. Warner has joined Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Scott Rigell in sponsoring legislation that would open the area to drilling. The proposal has the hearty endorsement of Sessoms, McDonnell and others. Rigell’s legislation passed the House on Tuesday, though its fate in the Senate is less certain.

In a recent piece objecting to earlier editorials in The Pilot on the proposal, Warner, Kaine and Rigell said they’d received no indication from the Pentagon that drilling would present a problem for the Navy.

Not counting the 2006 and 2010 warnings, it appears.

Furthermore, the lawmakers said they’ve been reassured that any new round of Base Closure and Realignment Commission hearings – which nearly shut down Oceana in 2005 – would not affect Hampton Roads.

So, presumably, because we’re reportedly safe now, we should feel free to run the table and encroach, encroach, encroach away.

The bid to open Virginia’s shores to drilling is short-sighted. The proposal poses far too many threats to the environment and to the two biggest components of our economy – tourism and the military.

The Chesapeake council’s decision to rezone land that the Navy had explicitly asked to be left in its current state was reckless. So is this effort to open up an even larger area to a type of development that the Navy has clearly stated it does not want.

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