Virginia Beach’s stance on offshore drilling could change next week

(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

Virginia Beach is unsure how it feels about offshore drilling. In fact, that could become its official position next week.

Councilman John Uhrin, who represents the Oceanfront, said he wants a resolution on next week’s agenda to rescind the city’s position in support of offshore drilling. Mayor Will Sessoms said Wednesday it would change the city’s stance to “neutral” until it can decide if it is for or against the activity.

“It’s time to take another look at this,” Sessoms said.

Proponents say offshore drilling would boost the local economy; opponents say it risks permanently damaging local ecosystems and the powerhouse tourism industry.

The City Council endorsed offshore drilling five years ago at the behest of then-Governor Bob McDonnell. That was just months before the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill — commonly known as the BP Oil Spill — killed 11 and discharged 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The decision to endorse was rushed, Sessoms said, adding that he doesn’t want to repeat that mistake. He said he wants the City Council to examine the pros and cons of drilling and hear from experts on both sides before making a decision.

“I take responsibility for pushing (for the endorsement) back then and I was wrong,” he said.

Since the vote, Beach officials have received mounting opposition to drilling and are rethinking the city’s stance. Sessoms said locals who once endorsed it have turned against it, such as the Virginia Beach Hotel Association.  A petition by the Surfrider Foundation that asks the city to officially oppose drilling exceeded 1,000 signatures last month, and the Virginia Beach Resort Advisory Commission voiced opposition to the practice earlier this year.

Uhrin previously said it would be in the city’s best interest to appear neutral on the issue while it is reexamining it.

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