NORFOLK, Va. — Here’s an unexpected consequence of federal belt tightening: The U.S. Navy has become that sloppy neighbor with the unsightly front yard.
To trim the budget, the region’s naval bases have cut back on trimming the grass.
The civilian contractor responsible for lawn care at Hampton Roads installations has been instructed to let grass grow to a foot before mowing, a change that’s expected to save the Navy about $1.9 million this year.
That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $4 billion the service has had to slash to meet the demands of sequestration. But out-of-control grass at area bases has quickly become one of the more visual signs of sweeping defense cuts.
After days of rain, much of Norfolk Naval Station was overgrown last week, giving swaths of the world’s largest naval base an unlived-in appearance. Similar scenes were reported at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story and at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
At Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, tall grass and thigh-high weeds greeted visitors near the entrance to the master jet base. (Note: If Virginia Beach residents or businesses let lawns grow above 10 inches, they could face criminal misdemeanor charges and fines up to $350.)
“It’s definitely noticeable,” said Kelley Stirling, an Oceana spokeswoman. “Our sailors take a lot of pride in the appearance of the base, so it can be frustrating to see it like this.”
A group of Marines stationed at Oceana recently took it upon themselves to personally mow a section where they do daily workouts. (Ever try doing pushups and sit-ups in an overgrown field?) A few other units have reportedly fired up mowers and weed eaters to spruce up the turf surrounding their buildings.
Capt. Bob Geis, the base commander, doesn’t want that to become the norm. In a message to sailors published Thursday in the Jet Observer newspaper, Geis said he takes pride in keeping the base looking good, but he doesn’t want to see uniformed service members pushing lawn mowers.
“Our Sailors and Marines already have a job to do ... I will not add ‘mowing the grass’ to their job description,” Geis wrote. “If we allowed our Sailors and Marines to cut the grass, this base would look better without a doubt. But all it would do is mask the reduced funding our grounds keepers are getting to do the job. In the long run, we must show what the impact is of the funding we receive.”
That’s not to say sailors haven’t been feeling the impact of the budget squeeze. In another cost saver, the Navy has cut back on its regional janitorial contract, forcing service members and base employees to pick up the slack.
Sailors and their civilian counterparts are now required to take out the trash.