Seeing his state about to get hit hard by sequestration budget cuts, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell looked down the road and saw another possible threat looming.
Congress is not currently planning for it. But in an economic climate of defense cutting, McDonnell feared that Congress might support a new round of federal base closures, making Virginia's defense assets vulnerable.
So McDonnell tapped the recently retired head of the Navy's Fleet Forces Command, Adm. John Harvey, to lead a state commission tasked with helping Virginia avoid losing any military installations and positioning it to attract more.
The state board is being reconstituted years after the 2005 round of congressionally mandated closures forced the Army to vacate historic Fort Monroe in Hampton.
Harvey says his 15-member team will travel the state to examine how military bases and communities interact and to gather data showing why Virginia is the ideal place for these bases.
"I think there's a great opportunity for Virginia in the midst of chaos and crisis," Harvey said Friday. "I think the governor sees a need to prepare for that opportunity."
Harvey retired from the Navy in September and has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business executive education program.
He said he is glad to chair the state's Commission on Military Installations and Defense Activities.
"I think it's important, as a citizen of Virginia in these very extraordinary times, to do my bit," Harvey said. "It's work I believe in. I am a citizen, and I am in a position to do it."
The bipartisan group will likely work through the end of 2014, Harvey said. In its first stage, the team will collect data to better understand why Virginia lost bases in the 2005 BRAC round and to look at what's different on bases today.
Relations between Hampton Roads' bases and host cities strengthened after 2005, when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission proposed closing Oceana Naval Air Station, in part because of encroaching development in Virginia Beach.
That spurred the city and state to agree to spend millions to acquire property between Oceana and Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field in Chesapeake, which Navy fighter jets use for landing practice.
In February, the Chesapeake City Council voted to rezone nearly 16 acres off Mount Pleasant Road to allow for a subdivision. That property is a few miles from Fentress.
The decision surprised regional and Navy leaders, who warned that the action could jeopardize the base and landing field. The City Council agreed to reconsider the decision and will vote again on the issue Tuesday.
Harvey said his commission will also examine the effects of defense cuts on the state and make recommendations to help the governor advocate on Virginia's behalf in Washington.
Similar commissions are being formed in such states as Indiana and Montana, he said.
He said Virginia makes more sense as a host for defense facilities because of its deepwater port and its established air stations and naval bases. If another round of base closings occurred, Harvey said, he is confident he could make the case to sustain Virginia's military installations.
"We are going to have the best case," he said. "It's always good to have the facts on your side."
Dianna Cahn, 757-222-5846, firstname.lastname@example.org