Pensacola, Florida (NNS) -- Acting on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast completed a historic and unprecedented exchange of helicopter Outlying Landing Field (OLF) sites with Escambia County, Florida, January 29.
The project exchanged an operational helicopter training airfield, Naval Outlying Landing Field (NOLF) Site 8, located in Escambia County, for a new helicopter NOLF, known as Site X, located in neighboring Santa Rosa County, Florida.
"This land exchange project was extraordinarily challenging considering there was little prior experience or formal guidance available," said NAVFAC Southeast Project Manager Ferdinand Salomon. "Without the outstanding contributions of a small, but talented and motivated group of team members from NAVFAC, Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field and the Escambia County staff, this project would have been absolutely impossible."
A ribbon cutting event is scheduled for Wednesday at Site X, which will feature a ceremonial first flight by NAS Whiting Field Commanding Officer Capt. Bowdich. Attendees will include Navy Region Southeast Commander Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Energy, Installations, and Environment, Mr. Jim Omans, along with several elected officials from both Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
Site X offers the Navy a new helicopter flight training facility that meets current helicopter flight training requirements, with capabilities including Night Vision Device training, raised pinnacles, a Confined Area Landing Zone, dual aircraft refueling, as well as new paved runways and gravel landing pads.
A land exchange project of this nature is without recent precedent in the Navy. Many of the real estate procedures and processes required to execute this type of transaction are not formalized in Navy real estate directives and have not been successfully accomplished on this scale.
"This transaction is of keen interest to the highest levels of the Navy, and will serve as the model for leveraging our underutilized facilities and real property assets to obtain new facilities, optimize our resources and more effectively support the Warfighter," said Salomon.
The project was made possible by special legislation authorizing the land exchange in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by President Obama on November 25, 2015. The legislation authorized, but did not require, the SECNAV to convey NAS Whiting Field's NOLF Site 8 to Escambia County, in exchange for land and improvements from the county, which are acceptable to the Navy and suitable for use as an OLF to replace Site 8.
Furthermore, the entire project was without cost to the Navy. A land exchange agreement signed June 2016 between the Navy and Escambia County, was amended September 2017 to reduce certain construction requirements that Escambia County was responsible to build. Site X construction was completed December 2018, and was deemed acceptable by the Navy for use as an OLF.
"Once the construction was complete, we finalized the necessary documents to complete the deed exchange with the county," explained Salomon. "The timing had to be precise to ensure the paperwork was ready, so that the base could conduct it's official closing of Site 8 and opening of Site X."
The land exchange provides Escambia County with property that can accommodate a wide variety of residential and light industrial development options, that will benefit the citizens and improve the county tax base. In return, the Navy gains a new, fully functional helicopter OLF, that meets current helicopter flight training requirements and is closer to NAS Whiting Field.
"It cannot be overstated how cooperative the Escambia County staff have been throughout the three plus years of this project," said Salomon. "This land exchange project will serve as a model of what can be achieved with willing, motivated and committed community partners."