SOAR shares portion of grant
Key data on military bases haven't been released.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
VIENNA -- The local organization devoted to keeping the Youngstown Air Reserve Station off a federal base closure list will return $140,000 of a state grant to help military facilities in Ohio that weren't as fortunate.
The State Controlling Board approved an amendment Monday to reallocate the money and have the state Department of Development split it among the Cleveland, Mansfield and Springfield communities.
A base in Mansfield is on the U.S. Department of Defense's recommended list for closure, while the federal agency recommends major cutbacks at military facilities in Cleveland and Springfield.
DOD had recommended May 13 that the local Air Reserve station, located in Vienna, remain open. It also recommended that in 2007 the base, the home of the 910th Airlift Wing, add a 142-member aeromedical evacuation squadron.
"With our success to date, we are in the unusual position of having more money than we apparently will need, barring any change in our status," said Neil Kaback, finance committee chairman for Operation: Save Our Airbase Reservists, established to keep the local base from closing or downsizing.
Fighting to stay open
The state distributed $2.5 million to seven communities with military facilities last year. The money was to be used to support the fight to keep those facilities open.
Of that amount, Operation: SOAR received $492,300. Most of it was spent on a public information campaign about the importance of the air base.
"Rather than hoard it, or waste it, Operation: SOAR will contribute unneeded state grant funds to Ohio's ongoing BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] battles now and, upon completion of the BRAC process, return private dollars to their original investors," said Kaback, a partner in the Cohen & amp; Co. accounting firm.
A nine-member BRAC committee is reviewing the DOD recommendations, and is supposed to make its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. It takes seven members of the commission to overturn DOD's decision on keeping a base open.
Operation: SOAR officials are waiting for the DOD to release data that explain its recommendations on the bases.
Some information has trickled in through the DOD and BRAC Web sites, but the key data detailing the reasons for DOD's recommendations haven't been released, said Reid Dulberger, Operation: SOAR's co-chairman.
Numerous files under the title "Air Force Meeting Minutes" were released late Sunday on the DOD Web site.
Some of the information is slightly useful, but it doesn't go to the heart of the DOD recommendations, said Dulberger, executive vice president of the Regional Chamber.
Five chamber employees and two at U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan's office spent the better part of Monday reviewing the thousands of pages of documents on the DOD Web site.
"We worked all day to unravel a tremendous amount of data," Dulberger said. "The information we found wasn't commensurate with the effort we put into this."
Dulberger said he was told the DOD is having "technical difficulties" causing delays in releasing the key information, and there is no time frame for that data to be made public.
The BRAC commission may be forced to request a delay from the Sept. 8 deadline because of problems obtaining needed information from the DOD, Dulberger said.
The delay already forced the commission to cancel one regional hearing to take testimony from bases impacted by the DOD's recommendations, and to postpone another hearing. There were supposed to be 16 regional hearings. The Ohio bases are supposed to attend the hearing June 27 in Buffalo.
Operation: SOAR's executive committee offered to return the $140,000 on two conditions.
The first condition is the state would give the money back to Operation: SOAR if the BRAC commission put the local base on the list for closure or downsizing. The second provision was no entity getting the money would target the Youngstown station in its effort to save its own installation.
The Vienna air base is the fifth-largest employer in the Mahoning Valley with more than 2,400 employees.