VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The Navy is eyeing an innovative public-private business model that could change the landscape around Naval Air Station Oceana while generating critical resources for improving infrastructure at the aging East Coast Master Jet Base.
At 78 years old, some of the base infrastructure needs major upgrades, but in recent years funding for the base has decreased, leaving commanders in an unenviable position of having to prioritize what gets attention.
For instance, a 132-room barracks had to be shut down in 2019 because more than two-thirds of the rooms had significant mold. Overall, 60% of the barracks on base are closed for a variety of reasons.
Enter the Future Base Design concept.
It aims to leverage hundreds of acres of underutilized land within the NAS Oceana footprint and allow public-private development opportunities that would generate in-kind considerations for the base, allowing critical sustainment dollars to be more effectively used for the core mission of warfighter support.
“Future Based Design started about three years ago, where we heard from very senior Navy and Department of Defense officials, where they challenged bases like mine to find innovative solutions, and to partner with willing partners to find infrastructure solutions that we can apply locally,” Captain John Hewitt, outgoing Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Oceana, told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.
“Future Based Design is really composed of two principal elements. One is out leasing underutilized property and the other is to have the potential to partner with stakeholders who can provide some of my non-core services,” Hewitt explained.
Those non-core services include recreation and morale activities such as bowling or golf that, while important to Sailors, are not part of the warfighting mission of supporting the squadrons.
The Navy has identified 350-400 acres of potentially developable land around Oceana and has been in talks with the Virginia Beach Economic Development team about future opportunities for that land.
This Thursday, during Hewitt’s Change of Command Ceremony, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Commanding Officer Rear Admiral Chip Rock and Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer are expected to sign a non-binding strategic agreement for the city and Navy to go after Future Base Design Opportunities in a coordinated fashion.
For the current fiscal year, NAS Oceana only received 55% of its budget requirement for sustainment operations, leaving a big gap. Hewitt thinks Future Base Design opportunities could help augment Oceana’s yearly sustainment funding through in-kind considerations, rather than direct payments.
“Let's say we have 10 acres of land, and the fair market value of that is, for argument's sake, $10,000 a year. Rather than NAS Oceana receiving a $10,000 in a cash payment, I'm going to make an arrangement where I receive that fair market value in the form of an in-kind consideration that I can apply locally at my base,” Hewitt commented.
“I can turn that into $10,000 in road maintenance or $10,000 in roof maintenance or HVAC maintenance, and that way, I get to keep 100% of that in kind consideration. Because if a check was written to me, I can only keep a small percentage of it. Congress has already given us the authority to do that. So, I'm already executing authorities that have been that have been granted, I'm not asking for anything new,” he added.
Early figures indicate that Future Base Design opportunities could bring in between $2.5-3 million a year from in-kind considerations.
One of the first opportunities may come from Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project and a proposal to construct a switching station on Oceana land. A number of possibilities to support the wind project are being considered.
Down the road, an interior fence line on Oceana could be reconfigured, allowing public access to non-core mission areas, while maintaining security for mission-critical areas.
“If you're in the general public, and you want to golf 18 holes, maybe years down the road, when Future Base Design is mature, you can do that and then we'll keep the secure side of the flight line for credentialed personnel,” Hewitt explained.
As the Navy begins to talk more about Future Base Design, leaders stress that any development will remain within the same framework of acceptable and compatible use for land around the base.
In 2005, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, known as BRAC, threatened to close Oceana and send the jets elsewhere because of encroachment surrounding the base.
In the years since, the state and city have spent millions to limit development around Oceana.
“The same rules that we've applied to other businesses outside of our fence line, development rights along London Bridge or down off of Dam Neck road, we're going to apply those same rules to ourselves,” Hewitt clarified. “We're going to we're going to be highly constrained in how we use that land.”
The Oceana Future Base Design project is expected to be the first for an active Department of Defense military installation.
It will likely take years to come to mature, and even though Hewitt will end his tenure at command of Oceana this week, he’s confident Future Base Design will be a boon to the East Coast Master Jet Base.
“There is no talk of diminishing the base infrastructure, by any means. Future Base Design is going to increase the military value of Oceana to the Department of Defense.”