VIENNA AIR BASE BRAC information delays concern Valley supporters
BRAC's first regional meeting, set for today, has been canceled.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
VIENNA -- Youngstown Air Reserve Station supporters are concerned that repeated delays in releasing information on base closure recommendations doesn't help the local base's cause.
U.S. Department of Defense officials had said long-awaited information that helped it determine the fate of the nation's 425 military bases, including the local one, was to be released Saturday.
DOD officials had said the information would be on the Web site of the Base Realignment and Closure commission. That commission is to review the DOD recommendations, and then make its own recommendations to President Bush.
DOD had recommended May 13 that the local reserve station, located in Vienna, remain open. It also recommended that in 2007 the base add a 142-member aeromedical evacuation squadron currently located at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, a facility the DOD recommended for closure.
Some information was released this weekend on the BRAC Web site. But it is essentially useless, said Reid Dulberger, chairman of Operation: Save Our Airbase Reservists, a local organization devoted to keeping the local base open.
"It's not important information," he said. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't show us much of anything."
The data released this weekend includes information on the economic and environmental impacts of each base.
Also included is a cost model listing how much money would be saved by closing bases and the financial windfalls of bases that would grow, said Dulberger, executive director of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
"The data is raw and you can't comprehend it," he said. "We can't tell what is its impact. It's not what we're looking for."
But late Sunday, Dulberger said the DOD website listed numerous files under the title "Air Force Meeting Minutes." He said the information "may be what we're looking for."
But Dulberger said Operation: Soar officials would not look at that information until today. The BRAC website did not have this new information.
The nine-member BRAC commission is supposed to have its recommendations to the president by Sept. 8.
But the delays in getting information from the DOD could put that date in jeopardy, Dulberger said.
The BRAC commission was to hold its first of 16 regional hearing today in Salt Lake City. But because of the delay from the DOD, that hearing is canceled.
Also, a Tuesday hearing in St. Louis is postponed with no future date released.
"This is detrimental to our cause," Dulberger said. "If the BRAC commission goes to Congress and says, 'We can't meet our deadline because the DOD can't get information to us, it could drag on."
Walking a fine line
Because the Youngstown base is walking a fine line, Dulberger said he and other supporters want to get the process finished as soon as possible.
"The longer it sits there, the possibility exists that we could be looked at" for potential closure, he said.
Seven votes from the BRAC commission are needed to overturn a DOD recommendation.
Ohio will get two hours to testify at the June 27 BRAC hearing in Buffalo.
With one base in Ohio recommended for closure, and two others recommended for major cuts, Youngstown base supporters will not have the chance to testify at the hearing.
The DOD made confidential data available to those with the proper security clearance during the past few days.
Dean Thomas, a legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, view information a few days ago. But Thomas can't share what he saw with anyone who doesn't have the proper clearance. Thomas received the clearance because Ryan, D-17th, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
A range of comments
The BRAC Web site also included public comments on the DOD's recommendations ranging from long and thoughtful analysis to short and antagonist statements, Dulberger said.
"It doesn't appear they looked at any of the comments before putting them on the Web site," he said.
Shortly after the DOD's May 13 announcement, it released scores from an evaluation system used as part of the department's recommendations.
Among the 10 Air Reserve stations in the country with C-130 aircrafts, Youngstown had the second highest score.
Of concern, Dulberger said, is two stations recommended for closure -- Pittsburgh and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station -- are less than 0.5 of 1 point behind the local facility. The DOD recommended closing four of the 10 air reserve stations with C-130s. Four Air Force reserve bases with C-130s that were recommended by the DOD to remain open had lower scores than Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls.
"We're looking for the data that shows how those scores were determined, and we're not getting it," Dulberger said. "We'd like to see how they came up with those scores for the local base and the others with C-130s."
The scores were based on the bases' missions, infrastructure condition, ability to mobilize, and the cost of operations and manpower.
The local base, the home of the 910th Airlift Wing, did exceptionally well in the latter category, a surprise to its supporters, Dulberger said, because it wasn't a focus area.
The base was in the "middle of the pack" when it came to its infrastructure condition, also a surprise, he said. That was expected to be one of the base's strong points.
"We can't tell what our strengths and weaknesses are because we can't see the underlying data," Dulberger said.
Also, local air base supporters want to read the minutes of meetings held by DOD officials to determine their recommendations for the bases, Dulberger said.
The Vienna air base is the fifth-largest employer in the Mahoning Valley with more than 2,400 employees. It puts more than $120 million annually into the local economy and created more than 700 off-base jobs.