Airport health is key to base, officials stress
All military installations are targets for closure.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
VIENNA -- Survival of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station during the 2005 round of base closings is directly tied to the continued viability of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
"Without the airport there is no air base," said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th.
The base, which houses the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift Wing and Naval and Marine Reserve units, has a $100 million economic impact annually to the area, Ryan said. "It is important for the citizens of Mahoning and Trumbull counties to know that ... it is our expectation that the federal government will not remain at the air base without a viable and successful airport," he said.
Survival of the airport depends upon continued financial support from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, themselves facing budget problems. The airport asked for $247,000 from each county this year, and in years past, the apportionments have been $300,000 each.
"The thing I fear most right now is the [counties'] airport funding issue. I'd like to see a funding commitment for the airport past 2005" so it would not be an issue for officials looking at base closures, said Brig. Gen. Michael F. Gjede, commander of the 910th.
Trumbull County's 2003 budget is tight, but "somehow, someway, we're going to fund the airport" for this year, county Commissioner Michael O'Brien said. "It's too important of a Mahoning Valley project to disregard."
The commissioner said, however, that the county has traditionally funded the airport one year at a time for the last decade, in the total amount of $3.5 million.
The Department of Defense will evaluate the Vienna air base and all other military installations for possible closure. The goals of Base Realignment and Closure are to eliminate excess infrastructure, improve readiness and save money. Ryan said the federal government intends to close 25 percent of its bases worldwide in 2005, based on BRAC recommendations.
That is why Reps. Ryan; Ted Strickland of Lisbon, D-6th; Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods, Pa., R-4th; and other elected officials -- plus business, labor and civic leaders -- met Wednesday at the air base to kick off a community campaign to make sure the air base survives the 2005 cuts.
The air base is important not only because of its economic impact regionally, but also because its unique aerial-spray unit is important for the security of the nation, Strickland said.
Hart said the Vienna base, where people from her district work and train, is important for anyone who wants to volunteer to serve in the reserve unit. The base where they train has to be nearby, she said.
State Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles, D-65th, speaking on behalf of the Mahoning Valley's elected state officials, pledged their support. "We believe this air base has elements that are crucial in the ongoing fight against terrorism," Harwood said.