dailypress.com - October 14, 2012, By Hugh Lessig
The Virginia Peninsula Chamber has mounted an all-out push in hopes of securing $6 million over two state fiscal years to help protect Langley Air Force Base from potential downsizing or closure.
Chamber President/CEO Mike Kuhns said the issue is a top priority on the group's public policy agenda, as it eyes 10,000 military and civilian personnel at Virginia's only Air Force base.
As of Friday, the effort has generated more than 600 letters, courtesy of a new chamber program that contacts people via email and allows them to dash off a letter with a point-and-click menu.
"This is really a call to action," Kuhns said.
The money – which the city of Hampton has pledged to match – would go to purchase land on the western edge of the base, providing a larger clear zone as a hedge against crashes. Hampton has identified more than 20 sites it would like to purchase, but city officials have said they have no intention of seizing land through eminent domain. Clearing up the zone will require a willing buyer – the city – and willing sellers agreeing on a fair market value.
The chamber's effort comes on the heels of a letter from Del. Gordon Helsel, R-Poquoson, sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell in August. Helsel's letter outlined many of the same concerns, and it noted a recent study that said Langley pumps $1.2 billion into the Hampton Roads economy each year.
High on the list of concerns for leaders like Kuhns and Helsel is the possibility of another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission.
A 2005 BRAC round resulted in the closing of Fort Monroe in Hampton and threatened Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. In addition, the management of four area bases was consolidated into two. Langley and Fort Eustis in Newport News now operate under a joint arrangement, and the same goes for the Army's Fort Story and the Navy's base at Little Creek in Virginia Beach.
President Barack Obama had proposed BRAC rounds in 2013 and 2015. The possibility of a 2013 BRAC generated broad bipartisan opposition in Congress and now seems remote.
Although McDonnell will not roll out a spending bill until December, key decisions must be made well before then.
"We'd just thought we'd get it going right now," Kuhns said. "It seems like the appropriate time."
For more news of the region's armed forces, visit hrmilitary.com.
Copyright © 2012, Newport News, Va., Daily Press
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