In latest “anti-drilling” vote, an old question resurfaces: Is Florida plotting to steal a Norfolk aircraft carrier?
Could Florida’s abrupt exemption from a plan to dramatically expand offshore oil drilling be part of a plot to move a Navy aircraft carrier to that state from Norfolk?
That was a question raised by some Hampton Roads elected officials on Thursday, and it helped fuel a unanimous vote by the region’s planning organization against oil and gas development along the Virginia coast.
“Let’s just connect the dots,” Williamsburg Mayor Paul Freiling told fellow members of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission board. “It is no coincidence that Florida is exempt from this, it is no coincidence that there’s a naval base in Florida, and it is no coincidence that that naval base in Florida wants an aircraft carrier from Norfolk down there, or all of them.”
That ended the discussion on whether the commission, which represents 17 communities in a region stretching from Virginia Beach to Gloucester County, should join the anti-drilling movement in Hampton Roads and across coastal America.
The planning group has at least one elected official from each of its member localities, and the vote Thursday was the most sweeping rejection so far in Hampton Roads of the federal government’s drilling plan.
Those voting for the resolution said they hope it makes clear to President Donald Trump and his administration that there are few, if any, pockets of support in the region for the idea of opening the Virginia coast to oil and gas development.
Until Thursday, the most significant regional position against drilling came from the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. That group has cited concerns raised by the Defense Department that oil and gas activity off Virginia would interfere with Navy training and other military operations.
Local business and political leaders have for decades been easily agitated by any sign that Florida officials might be gaining leverage to lure a carrier to the Jacksonville-area Navy base of Mayport.
Freiling and commission members from York County and Virginia Beach who also cited the Mayport threat offered no evidence that Florida’s removal from the drilling plan was somehow related to aircraft carriers. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Florida’s exemption, announced less than a week after the drilling plan was announced Jan. 4, was because that state “is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” That claim angered officials in Virginia and other coastal states.
Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, emailed in response to Thursday’s planning commission discussion: “The Interior Department does not oversee the movement of aircraft carriers.”
Commission members from Portsmouth, Hampton and Newport News said they expected their city councils soon will join those of Virginia Beach and Norfolk in adopting their own resolutions against drilling off Virginia.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s lone public meeting to take Virginians’ comments on the 2019-2024 drilling plan is scheduled for Wednesday in Richmond.
Dave Mayfield, 757-446-2341, firstname.lastname@example.org