Posted: May 14, 2005 11:52 am EST

Uphill battle faces Niagara base supporters (~15 col. in.)
by Jill Terreri / Niagara (N.Y.) Gazette
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    By Jill Terreri
    CNHI News Service

    NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - To save the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, local leaders are going to have to prove it has value the military can’t live without.
    Going forward in the Base Realignment and Closure process, leaders will talk about its proximity to an international border, its recruiting strength in a time when recruitment is down, the skill and dedication of its personnel and the region's patriotism and support of the base.
    Politicians and base supporters repeatedly reminded Friday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recommendation to close the base is not final.
    “Although we did not plan to be on this list," said John Cooper, vice president of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, “we are prepared and we are confident that the BRAC Commission will see the great military value the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station brings to our national security abroad and in defense of our homeland.”
    NIMAC was created 10 years ago to enhance and preserve the base.
    Merrell Lane, NIMAC president, said the criteria the Pentagon stated it used in the BRAC process was incorrectly applied to Niagara, and he seeks to correct inaccuracies.
    “The Niagara Air Reserve Station meets or exceeds the BRAC criteria,” Lane said.
    U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter said one possibility is fighting the closure in court, on the grounds that the federal government doesn’t have the right to shut down a unit of the New York National Guard, such as the 107th Air Refueling Wing.
    Apparently, all the money the Niagara region sent to lobbyists Hyjek and Fix, the efforts of the local Congressional delegation and the money the government pumped into building new airmen’s quarters, a military processing station and a fire rescue station didn’t have an impact on the base’s fate thus far.
    The battle to remove Niagara from the closure list is expected to test the political mettle of western New York's Congressional delegation.
    “I will use whatever resource I have available,” said U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y.
    While U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that position won’t have a direct impact on this process, as the list won’t go through committee.
    Clinton said she has spoken with the head of the BRAC commission, and has received assurances that he will make a personal visit to New York state.
    “We believe with all our hearts this is a mistake,” she said.
    In the past, 85 percent of those bases recommended for closure have been closed, but there is a small window of opportunity. Rumsfeld’s list must be approved by an independent commission, passed on to the president and then sent to Congress for approval.
    In 1995, the Niagara base was on the BRAC list, but was removed after a groundswell of community support.
    The news that the base might close could put in jeopardy plans for a new terminal at the Niagara Falls International Airport, which shares space with the base, said Niagara Frontier Transporation Authority spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer.
    In the case of closure, the authority needs to evaluate the economics of opening a new terminal, as it is planning to do, if it loses its fire and crash rescue capabilities, which the base currently provides.

    Jill Terreri is staff writer for Niagara (N.Y.) Gazette.

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