- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

NORFOLK — Virginia Beach leaders said a plan to keep Navy jets at Oceana Naval Air Station exceeds the requirements of a federal base-closing commission — without having to condemn about 3,000 homes near the base’s runways.

“We feel that we had mission impossible,” Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf told reporters yesterday. “I feel now it’s like a mission accomplished.”

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) declared in August that Oceana’s jets would move to Florida unless state and local officials took steps to stop and roll back development encircling the base.

The city had until yesterday to submit a plan to comply. Spokesman Chuck Applebach said it was delivered in the afternoon to the office of the inspector general of the Defense Department, which must decide by June 1 whether to certify the plan.

Oceana, the East Coast’s master jet base, has about 12,000 employees and is the resort city’s largest employer.

The commission didn’t order Oceana closed if its more than 200 jets are moved. The Navy has said it prefers to keep the jets at Oceana if encroachment can be curtailed.

The plan to save the jets was developed over nine months with the state and the nearby city of Chesapeake, where the Navy has a landing field. It includes ordinances that would ban new development in accident-prone zones near the runways and limit development in other areas subject to noise.

The plan also would provide relocation incentives for business owners in the zone where the risk of a jet crash is highest and $15 million annually to buy property from willing owners. If owners do not wish to sell, though, it would not condemn homes, which had seemed to be a key demand by the commission.

But Virginia Beach City Attorney Les Lilley stressed that the BRAC order says the city must act to prevent further encroachment.

“We feel confident that we meet not only a literal interpretation but we also meet any intent-based interpretation” of the order, Mr. Lilley said.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said he thinks the plan is acceptable because it “meets the BRAC requirements, satisfies the Navy and is fair to thousands of home and business owners around Oceana,” spokesman Kevin Hall said yesterday.

“The governor believes this plan goes beyond the BRAC requirements,” Mr. Hall said. “It sets up an orderly process to buy down existing encroachment and gives the city new tools to prevent future encroachment around the base.”

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