Posted: May 14, 2005 7:51 am EST

Niagara base slated for closure (~22 col. in.)
by Jill Terreri /Niagara Gazette
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    By Jill Terreri
    CNHI News Service

    NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - Niagara Falls received the news Friday it had been dreading for years.
    In a sweeping list of 150 bases across 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, the Pentagon recommended that the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station be closed during this year’s Base Realignment and Closure process.
    The story wasn’t expected to end Friday, however.
    Word that the 58-year-old base was on the Pentagon’s hit list led to a militant response among local leaders here, where the economy is weak and jobs are scarce. Elected leaders and base supporters vowed to remove the Falls base from the list, as was done in 1995, when similar news led to a successful lobbying effort to save the base.
    “We’re mad as hell and we’re going to fight,” said Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, whose district includes part of the base. “Today’s recommendation ... is, to put it bluntly, wrong. Worse, I believe the Pentagon’s motivations are not based on strategy or vision, but on moving equipment to active duty stations. That in my view, is a misuse of the BRAC process.”
    Reynolds spoke during a news conference Friday afternoon that was hosted by the Niagara Military Affairs Council, which has worked for 10 years to enhance the base through building projects with the ultimate goal of keeping it off the list.
    “As a city we’re going to rally around the effort to change the course of this action,” said Falls Mayor Vince Anello. “We’re going to work with everyone who’s working to take the base off the list.”
    Over at the base, Col. James Roberts, commander of the 914th Air Lift Wing, was staying upbeat.
    “I never take the attitude that I’m a victim,” Roberts said. “I don’t think Niagara was targeted, when you see the larger picture of what the BRAC is trying to do.”
    The BRAC process isn’t supposed to leave room for politics.
    However, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, who represents Niagara Falls, vowed to fight the list in Congress, if possible.
    “If it can be changed, we’ll change it,” she said. “To have this base close on an international border strikes me as the height of folly. ... we have just begun this fight.”
    Friday’s announcement is part of a base closing process that was authorized by Congress in 2002 and is expected to save American taxpayers $48.8 billion over the next 20 years.
    The news comes at a time when a crew from Niagara is getting ready to go to the Middle East this summer and $14 million in construction is planned at the base, including a new Military Entrance Processing Site, where new recruits are processed, and new housing for military personnel visiting the base. Since the last BRAC round in 1995, the base has had $35 million in new construction.
    According to the Defense Department, the justification for closing the base is that the C-130 force of the 914th Airlift Wing can be moved out of Niagara Falls to Little Rock, Ark., a base the Pentagon says has higher military value. That action also moves the C-130 force into active duty from reserve status. The department says the active/reserve “manning mix” for C-130s is currently not balanced.
    “It’s in tornado alley,” said former Little Rock resident Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Why would you put all your C-130s in tornado alley?”
    The closure would also allow KC-135Rs of the 107th Air Refueling Wing to move to Bangor, Maine, replacing older aircraft there.
    For the Pentagon, the cost to close the base is $62.5 million, but the net savings during the closure period is expected to be $5.3 million. Over 20 years, the net savings is projected at $199.4 million. However, moving C-130s to Little Rock will cost an additional $20 million, according to the Niagara Military Affairs Council.
    For the Western New York economy, the cost could be much higher.
    After Delphi Thermal, the base is the second-largest employer in Niagara County, with an annual payroll of $50 million and an annual estimated economic impact of $150 million.
    If the base doesn’t attract some other economic engine, the Pentagon projects 1,072 jobs, 642 directly and 430 indirectly, to be lost.
    According to base spokesman Neil Nolf, however, the base employs 800 full-time workers and 3,000 reservists visit the base each month, some of which overlap with the full-time staff.
    For the reservists, they would make a choice whether to stay with the military and report to a different base, which could be hundreds of miles away, or retire.
    The strong recruiting record in Niagara is one of its selling points, said Sen. Charles Schumer.
    “You need local bases,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
    “This is another kick in the face,” said Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards of the recommendation. The town is home to small businesses that rely on base personnel for support. “The local economy is going to be devastated.”

    Jill Terreri writes for the Niagara Gazette.

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