A tiff develops around missile

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A Cold War relic has sparked a conflagration of its own over how it will get to Isle of Wight and what will be done with it when it arrives. 

The City of Hampton has agreed to give its Nike Ajax missile to the county to display at Carrollton Nike Park, a former Army Air-Defense command post in the 1950s. 

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Local historians have sought a Nike Ajax missile for years to provide a visual representation of the park’s past. 

A Carrollton resident and military hobbyist has volunteered to move the missile, take temporary ownership and put it on his personal property, along with his Sherman tank, until the county decides the next steps — all free of charge. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“We know what we’re doing. We’re not just a bunch of yokels,” said Adrian Winget, who heads up the Virginia Military Preservation Association, a volunteer group that preserves, restores and collects military vehicles. The Association has worked with the Virginia War Museum and the Fort Eustis Transportation Museum in the past. 

Winget told the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors Thursday that his group was “cocked and ready to load” and was poised to move the missile on Sept. 28. Two Isle of Wight companies, Knox Automotive and V.R. Edwards, volunteered to restore the missile for free, too. 

The missile, by the way, is inert. 

The hold-up appears to be the need for volunteer releases. The flames were further fanned by an email from a missile task force member, Herb DeGroft, who wrote, “The “little” IoW county employee bureaucratic power brokers will have had “their day in the sun,” proving once again that only “government” can waste taxpayer funds better than any spendthrift citizen.”

“There’s a subversive rat in this whole mess, and I have my suspicions thereon,” said DeGroft. 

Earlier this year, a task force was formed to determine how to transport, restore and display the missile, which has been at the Hampton’s Air Power Park for many years. Winget and DeGroft are members of the advisory group.  

The Nike-Ajax Missile Task Force meeting minutes for Sept. 18 state that Winget was on board to help transport. 

Isle of Wight County Director of Parks and Recreation David Smith said the task force had agreed that using volunteers was the cheapest way to go, but hadn’t yet set a definite date. 

During Thursday’s work session, Isle of Wight County Museum Executive Director Jennifer England gave a presentation about the various issues involved in moving the missile, such as permits, possible toxic paint and a rotting launcher, as well as possible scenarios for display. 

“You are moving a missile … across the James River Bridge,” said England about needing a permit from VDOT.

England also provided the Board with some “ballpark” quotes from companies on moving and refurbishing the missile that ranged from $15,000 to $17,000 and $100,727.

Isle of Wight County attorney Bobby Jones advised the Board that Winget and his group needed to sign volunteer waivers to absolve the county of any liability should someone get hurt or something go wrong. Jones said the county owns the missile and its agreement with Hampton does not allow for an ownership transfer.

The discussion appeared to anger Winget, who was asked to speak. 

Winget said he has a trailer that is large enough, and along with some minor modifications, does not need a VDOT permit. Winget said his group needs temporary ownership for its own insurance purposes, and that a time limit could be set, if needed. 

Part of Winget’s proposal included his son, Walter, helping to move the missile and create a concrete display platform at its new site as part of an Eagle Scout project. 

Jones said the volunteer waiver has nothing to do with the Association’s qualifications.

“It’s a matter of process,” he said. 

Jones reiterated that the missile belongs to Isle of Wight and that, as a lawyer, he is merely weighing the risks. 

As the discussion continued, Board Chairman William McCarty seemingly became irritated, stating, “I’m a little more passionate about this,” saying that the Board has agreed that it wants this artifact.

“Get it done,” he told Jones about the volunteer releases. 

In an email, Winget said that DeGroft was pushing the move because Hampton had indicated it wanted the missile moved by the end of September. 

Smith said Hampton preferred to get rid of the missile as soon as possible, but was flexible, knowing it was a governmental process. 

In an email, Winget said he suggested the missile go on his property because he has all the necessary equipment, including four wooden cradles built to the dimensions of the missile and booster. 

“I just offered a MOU (memorandum of understanding) today (Oct. 4) to attempt to do exactly what we had discussed, (with waivers) move it and disassemble for a period of three months time so they can figure out where it will go, what they want,” said Winget in an email. 

“I know they (the county) came to me for advice, I saw them falter and go down a very expensive, inexperienced route and offered to execute. VMPA developed a plan at no cost to the county and prepared to execute the move as Hampton wanted it removed, it makes sense as everything else on-site has been freshly painted and it only detracts from their displays,” wrote Winget. 

Ultimately, the missile will be displayed at Carrollton Nike Park, allowing visitors to see and read about the park’s connection to the Cold War.  {/mprestriction}