By Bill Bartel
The U.S. House has approved legislation that would remove a federal block on Accomack County's efforts to develop land as part of a research park near NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would lift a federal deed restriction on almost 32 acres of vacant county land that has prevented local officials from building a road to the research park. The measure passed 240-164 on Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, who sponsored the bill, said during the floor debate that the county - one of the poorest in Virginia - is trying to create new jobs but is hampered by restrictions put in place by the Department of the Interior. The Virginia Beach Republican's district includes the Eastern Shore counties.
The property, formerly owned by the Interior Department, was turned over to the county in 1976 with the caveat that it be used only for recreational purposes. Part of the property was at one time used for a baseball field, but it has sat dormant for years.
Rigell said he sponsored the legislation after the federal agency rejected proposals by the county to exchange the property for nearby land. Instead, the agency wanted the county to pay about $815,000 to end the deed restriction.
During the floor debate, some Democrats argued against the legislation, saying it amounted to a federal giveaway.
"We're giving away tax money," said U.S. Rep.Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. "The county could pay for the land with the revenues they get from developing the land."
Rigell replied that it's more important to let local residents, rather than Washington, decide what is best for job development.
"Accomack County has a plan. Americans are resourceful," Rigell said. "They'll figure a way out of this... They've simply asked the federal government to get out of the way."
Bill Bartel, 757-446-2398, firstname.lastname@example.org