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Alaska Editorial: Breathing room: Air Force grants time to review F-16 plan

Posted: June 13, 2013 - 12:21am

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

Air Force officials should be commended for delaying public hearings on the proposed move of Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 squadron to the Anchorage area.

The meetings, previously scheduled for next week, will now occur in mid-July.

The original schedule, announced on May 31 with release of the draft environmental impact statement on the proposed move, left Alaskans with just 10 working days to develop comments to present at the hearings.

That wasn’t adequate, and Alaska’s congressional delegation let the Air Force know it.

In a May 31 letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, they asked for the hearings to be delayed.

“This afternoon our staffs had the opportunity to discuss this schedule with Alaska community leaders during a weekly conference call pertaining to the Eielson relocation,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young said in a letter to Donley and Welsh. “The unanimous response was that this hearing schedule does not afford Alaskans enough time to formulate meaningful comments and should be delayed.”

The Air Force’s report shows just how critical this decision is to Fairbanks. The loss of personnel and spending associated with the F-16s would be a big hit for the regional economy. The report predicts that unemployment in Alaska’s Interior could rise to almost 9 percent. Property values in much of the borough likely would fall. And schools on Eielson would close.

Those aren’t reasons alone for the Air Force to continue to base the F-16s here, but they are reasons for Fairbanks to go over the Air Force’s analysis with a microscope. To date, the people reviewing the proposal have identified a number of places where it does not appear to be sound.

Young, in a news release Monday, said “this first draft EIS does not address any of our concerns with the move, including sparse housing options, limited school availability and outrageous and costly commutes.”

Murkowski, in a similar news release, encouraged Alaskans also to “point out that ‘America Needs Eielson AFB’ in its current or more robust form, to stem the threat from the Asia-Pacific region.”

“The proposal to move the F-16s just doesn’t make any sense from a strategic or financial standpoint,” said Sen. Mark Begich

Fairbanks residents and others have brought these issues to the Air Force’s attention during the past few months. We’ll need more time to see how those concerns have been addressed in the draft environmental impact statement. It’s good that Air Force officials have granted us some.

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