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Leaders discuss future of area’s military bases

By ED RUNYAN

Staff writer

YOUNGSTOWN – A panel discussed the future of the area’s two military installations — the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and Camp Garfield near Newton Falls — and what’s being done to ensure the Pentagon values them enough to keep them operating.

The discussion was part of the Impact Ohio Youngstown Warren Regional Conference on Thursday at Stambaugh Auditorium.

One thing this area did to facilitate that is create the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber-led Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission four years ago.

Gov. Mike DeWine created a Cabinet-level position held by panelist Col. Joseph E. Zeis Jr., senior adviser for aerospace and defense.

“I can’t think the governor enough for creating this position,” said Michael Dustman, director of constituent services / militaryand veterans for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Dustman said the work EOMAC director Vito Abruzzino and Zeis have done is helping the community understand what the Pentagon wants from its facilities and adapt to those wants.

“They’re going to look at what’s going on in the community,” Dustman said of the Pentagon. “What is your hospital system like? What is the crime rate like? What is the education system like?” he said.

State Rep. Rick Perales, a Republican from Beaver Creek, said many officials were happy with the results of the 2005 U.S. military base realignment and closure.

“Everyone jumped up and down,” but Perales said he was not one of them. “We could have done much better,” he said. Other states did better, including Texas, Massachusetts, Tennesee, he said.

Now is “another opportunity to beat the bushes and figure out what’s going on,” he said. “We can’t anticipate what’s coming up. Talk to the people at the Pentagon. Use your contacts and try to get ahead of the power curve.”

The news out of Washington this summer was that Camp Garfield is not the first choice to be the East Coast Missile Defense site. Fort Drum in New York state is the first choice, but the Department of Defense has no plans to develop such a site at this time.

“I would say do not give up the fight,’ Dustman said of trying to land the site here some day. “The testimony the then-secretary of defense gave was they felt backed into a corner and they had to designate a site, which is why Fort Drum” was selected, he said.

A “whole new evaluation will be done” if the idea comes up again, he said.

Another panel discussed the restoration of the Mahoning River.

Kurt Princic, district chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the Mahoning River was at one time “as challenged as any river in the country.”

There was a time when the river’s temperature was more than 100 degrees. “There were stories of steel mills calling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and asking them to release more water from the dam because the water was too hot for them to make any steel,” he said.

In 1994, only two of 29 sites on the Mahoning River met Ohio water quality standards. When the last survey was done in 2013, 11 sites met the state’s water-quality standards and 12 were partially met.