(Nov. 28, 2014) Upon hearing of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s bids for cost sharing and federal funds to help repair damages caused by the Antares explosion in late October, the three commissioners who were reelected earlier in the month were decidedly reactive in tone, despite emphasizing the facility’s importance during election season.
Published reports show McAuliffe has contacted both senators Mark Warner and Timothy Kaine to look for budget help in Congress and intimated the state would seek to renegotiate the memorandum of understanding governing the facility.
‘We’d certainly listen if something came before us,” Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said, “Like everywhere else, money is still tight.”
Lockfaw admits the facility is “critical as a business and economic generator. Do we have plenty of money? No, state mandates have cost us. I couldn’t say for sure.”
He does think launches should continue.
“They unfortunately made a costly mistake, but it shouldn’t dampen what can be done,” he said.
Commissioner President J. Bud Church rejected the premise.
“I can’t imagine any governor would be not be in favor [of a facility like Wallops Island]. I’ll be watching it very closely because of the net effect it could have on the Eastern Shore.”
Church said he was “not as excited as he was previously,” with regards to Wallops Island.
Commissioner Jim Bunting remains in favor of the facility, but not at the cost of other ventures.
“Wallops is very important to southern Worcester County, Bunting, who represents northern Worcester County, said.
“Too much emphasis has been placed on it due to how fragile it is. The launches can be moved, and it should be placed on the level of other businesses. We should emphasize maybe manufacturing, or information technology. We should plan for a broad spectrum and not just hope this one place grows and grows,” he said.
Bunting said he would like to see the county support itself in ways other than tourism and agriculture.
Early reports estimate damages between $13-20 million to repair damages caused by the explosion. The launchpad, partially funded by a bond issue of $100 million, cost $150 million to construct.