- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Navy has found no better location for a master jet base than Oceana Naval Air Station, members of a commission considering closing the installation were told yesterday.

Four members of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission took a helicopter tour of the Virginia Beach base yesterday morning to see neighborhood encroachment, then met with Navy officers on the ground.

Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the nine-member commission, said afterward that Oceana was added to the panel’s list of recommendations for closure because a Pentagon official had said the Navy would like to build a new master jet base.

“This is a very serious issue,” Mr. Principi said.

However, Navy officers assured the BRAC commissioners and Virginia officials that there is no better site for the base than Oceana, said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican.

Mr. Allen was among a group of Virginia officials who accompanied the four commissioners.

“This will be a wake-up call for the people of this region,” BRAC Commissioner Samuel Skinner said. “They will need to cooperate with the military.”

Oceana is Virginia Beach’s largest employer, with a military and civilian staff of nearly 17,000. It is home to about 140 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets and about 50 F-14 Tomcats.

Oceana was a late addition to the bases that the commission is considering recommending for closure.

It was not on the Pentagon’s original list in May, but the commission took the unusual step of adding it.

Seven of the nine commissioners must agree in order to add a base to the list, and the panel voted 7-1 on July 19 to add Oceana.

Commission researchers said neighborhood development is encroaching on pilots’ ability to practice taking off and landing at all hours.

Local and state officials are lobbying to keep Oceana open, but the base has critics in the neighborhood.

Hal Levenson, a spokesman for Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise, said he would like to have shown the commissioners a shopping mall and two elementary schools that are in Oceana’s flight path.

“It disrupts classes all the time at both schools,” he said.

The citizens group wants Oceana realigned, Mr. Levenson said, with the Hornets and Super Hornets moved elsewhere.

“The planes are as loud as the Concorde,” said Mr. Levenson, who lives about a mile and a half from the base.

On Thursday, the commission will hold a public hearing on Oceana in the District.

Among those scheduled to testify is the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael G. Mullen.

The admiral responded to an invitation by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who is leading the effort to keep Oceana open.

The panel will make its final decision later this month about which bases to propose for closing or altering.

President Bush and Congress will make a binding decision in the fall.

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