House to move bill stripping federal government of land rights in Virginia

The House next week is expected to advance a bill that would remove all deed restrictions on a parcel of land in Accomack County, Va., so a public-private consortium can develop the land further.

The bill from Scott Rigell (R-Va.), H.R. 2087, would allow Wallops Research Park in the county to use the land to expand its facilities, a move Rigell said would create jobs.

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Under the current deed for the land, the county is required to use the land for recreation. But Republicans say the park is rarely used, and could have a positive impact on jobs if the research park were allowed to expand.

"The Board of Supervisors came to me with a smart, reasonable request that will create jobs, and that's music to my ears," Rigell said last June, when he first introduced the bill. "There is room for economic growth at Wallops Park, and we need to foster any ember of economic potential that we can. I couldn't have been happier to help facilitate this project."

But Democrats are expected to object. In report language accompanying the bill, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee argued that the county received the land in 1976 under the condition that it use the parcel of land for recreation. Democrats argued that allowing the county to use the land for other reasons would allow it to renege on that agreement.

"Not only does this legislation renege on a deal signed by the County, it also sets a devastating precedent," Democrats wrote. "Since its inception in 1949, the Federal Lands to Parks Program has transferred close to 170,000 acres to communities across the United States. In each case, the land transfer includes the same requirement that, if the parcel is no longer used for recreational purposes, it will revert to federal ownership."

Republicans who support the bill argue that the bill is needed because the National Park Service is unwilling to do a land swap with the county, and instead wants the county to pay $815,000 for the right to use the land for reasons other than its intended purpose. They also argue that the county does not have these funds, and should not have to pay $25,000 per acre.

"The Committee on Natural Resources welcomes the opportunity to report legislation that will create jobs at no cost to the tax- payers," Republicans wrote in the committee report. "Congress must act to reduce burdens that have stifled job creation in local communities."

The House Rules Committee set a deadline for amendments to be printed by Monday, a sign the House will likely be ready to act on the bill by next week.

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