Alaska Editorial: Proposed F-16 move has dire effects on Fairbanks

This editorial first ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

 

Anyone doubting the devastating effect of the plan to move Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 fighter jets to the Anchorage area should read the Air Force’s recent announcement of public meetings to consider the idea.

The plan would transfer the 18th Aggressor Squadron — consisting of 18 “assigned” F-16s and three back-ups — from Eielson Air Force Base, just southeast of North Pole, to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, just north of downtown Anchorage.

“This proposed relocation includes removing 623 military personnel from EAFB, transferring approximately 542 positions to JBER, and eliminating 81 positions,” the notice in the Federal Register summarized.

But that’s not all.

“The Air Force proposes to reduce military and civilian authorizations at EAFB appropriate to the command structure required for the remaining operations,” the notice continued. “Current planning estimates call for an end-state of approximately 769 appropriated funds personnel at EAFB after FY15 (559 military and 210 civilian personnel).”

Today the base is host to almost 1,900 Air Force active duty personnel. (That doesn’t include National Guard personnel.) Does this proposal mean that, within two years, Eielson’s Air Force personnel numbers could be cut by almost three-quarters? That’s stunning.

The Air Force is holding public meetings this week in Fairbanks about the plan. The meetings are designed to help the Air Force set the scope of issues to be addressed in an environmental impact statement it will prepare to describe the move.

The Air Force wants analysis of two scenarios in which Eielson would continue to host two annual training exercises. In one scenario, the F-16s would be located at Eielson for the duration of the exercises. In the other, the F-16s would fly through the area but not stop regularly at Eielson. The Air Force will also analyze the impacts of a “no action alternative,” meaning the F-16s would stay.

The meetings this week are not intended to air the full range of pros and cons offered by the move. They are designed to find out what sorts of issues the environmental impact statement should address.

That doesn’t mean the discussion should be limited to such things as pollution or wildlife, though. “Environmental impacts,” in this context, can and should include the proposal’s potentially wide range of social, economic and strategic effects here and in Anchorage.

Moving the F-16s and eliminating three-quarters of Eielson’s personnel would certainly have enormous impacts upon the Fairbanks area and its military.

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