Coordination On Fentress Funds


Limiting development around Fentress Naval Auxiliary Field, as the Navy made abundantly clear earlier this year, is just as important as restricting growth around Oceana Naval Air Station.

So it’s encouraging to see officials in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach engaging in a concerted effort to protect both military installations.

As The Pilot’s Jeff Sheler recently reported, the City Council in Chesapeake plans to ask the Virginia General Assembly for $2.5 million in state matching funds to help acquire land around the airfield.

Virginia Beach, in turn, will reduce its annual request for state funds for purchases around Oceana by the amount that Chesapeake is seeking.

The need for greater coordination was on full display in February when Chesapeake’s council stunned many people – including Navy brass – with a rezoning near Fentress for a small, infill housing development.

The council’s 5-4 vote, later reversed, was in direct violation of a pact by Chesapeake and Virginia Beach to buffer Fentress and Oceana from additional development.

The agreement came about after federal officials came very close to shutting down Oceana in 2005 as part of a round of cost-saving closures. Encroaching development was one of the reasons cited in the argument for closure.

The decision to shut down Oceana would have been devastating to the economy of Hampton Roads and Virginia and likely would have weakened the standing of other installations in the region and state.

After February’s surprise vote, the meandering members of Chesapeake’s council received a quick education on the value of protecting Fentress. And Virginia Beach provided guidance on how to clarify Chesapeake regulations so that officials were clear on the goal.

Aside from that February vote, Chesapeake officials generally have shown a commitment to safeguarding Fentress. As Sheler reported, it’s spent $4.3 million to buy hundreds of acres nearby, with the Navy sharing about $1.8 million of those costs.

Virginia Beach has received $7.5 million in matching funds to purchase property near Oceana. But the city is finding fewer willing sellers, so it’s planning to ask for less next year. Chesapeake, which is making its first request for state dollars for Fentress protection, would be the beneficiary.

Given what’s at stake for the region and the state, the General Assembly should be swift with its approval.

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