Vote makes relocation unlikely
Keeping the Pittsburgh base open is better for the Valley, a local official says.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A federal commission's decision to keep an air base in Pittsburgh open probably means 142 members of an aeromedical evacuation squadron there won't relocate to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
The Base Realignment and Closure commission voted 8-0 Friday to overturn a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Defense to close the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, the home of the 911th Airlift Wing.
It takes a vote of seven BRAC commissioners to overturn a recommendation from the DOD. For the most part, the commission voted this week to stick with the DOD recommendations.
BRAC members voted to keep the Pittsburgh base open to "support continued operations of the reserve station units, including flight operations."
The vote also establishes a "regional joint readiness center" between the air reserve and an air national guard facility there "with the mission of providing civil-military operations, homeland security, and community-based medical support" to the DOD and the Department of Homeland Security. The plan calls for the base to be staffed at its "current manning level."
In all likelihood, that means the more than 2,000 reservists and 322 full-time workers at the facility won't be relocated, said Mahoning Valley and Pittsburgh-based officials who've been closely monitoring this process. It isn't known what will happen to the Pittsburgh base's eight C-130 aircraft.
The additional 142 jobs would have helped the Vienna-based air station, the home of the 910th Airlift Wing, said Reid Dulberger, co-chairman of Operation: Save Our Airbase Reservists.
But keeping the Pittsburgh facility open is probably better for the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, Dulberger said. Operation: SOAR is an organization that focused on keeping the Vienna base open.
Advantages of decision
"Their loss was so much more than our gain," Dulberger, the Regional Chamber's executive vice president, said about Pittsburgh. "We may be better off as an overall community to have both facilities remain open. Having the Pittsburgh facility open will help our community as well."
That's because the Pittsburgh base employs people from western Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio, he said.
Pennsylvania lawmakers lobbied BRAC commissioners, saying the DOD recommendation to close Pittsburgh was based on faulty data.
"I commend the commission for recognizing the significant role the 911th Airlift Wing plays in defending our country and the considerable advantages of maintaining their base of operations at the Pittsburgh International Airport," said U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods, Pa., R-4th. Her congressional district is a short distance from the air base.
The DOD released its recommendations May 13 of what should be done with the nation's military facilities.
Military documents show the Air Force recommended in November 2004 that the Vienna base remain open and keep its 12 C-130 aircrafts. BRAC never considered a change to the DOD recommendation to keep the local base open. There is no chance whatsoever that the Vienna facility would close under the BRAC process, Dulberger said.
The BRAC commission has to send its final report to President Bush by Sept. 8. Bush must accept or reject the report in its entirety or send it back to the commission for revisions by Sept. 23.
If the recommendations are rejected by Bush, the commission has until Oct. 20 to revise the list.
Bush must give the list to Congress by Nov. 7 or the process dies; the latter is considered a highly unlikely scenario. Congress must act on the list by Dec. 22. It can veto the plan in its entirety but never has done that in four previous BRAC rounds.
The Vienna air base is the fifth-largest employer in the Mahoning Valley with 2,400 workers. Base officials say the facility puts more than $120 million annually into the local economy and has created more than 700 off-base jobs.