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Alaska officials fear base move's economic impact

Posted: February 5, 2012 - 1:11am

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks leaders fear a proposal to relocate Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 squadron to Anchorage will have a drastic economic impact on the Interior, and expect to see the local community rise up in the same kind of protest that forestalled a base closure seven years ago.

The move would also relocate a majority of the base’s 5,000 combined military personnel and families.

The Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. estimates that Eielson and the Army’s Fort Wainwright comprise about 35 percent of the local economy, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

Eielson alone is estimated to contribute $289 million annually to the Fairbanks-area’s economy. Officials also worry that without the squadron, the base will be unable to avoid closure.

North Pole Sen. John Coghill said the move could leave the base nearly empty.

“As I understand the issue, the support services, from airframe maintenance to medical, will go with the fighters,” he said. “This could leave the base as a ghost town in many ways, making it nearly impossible to defend Eielson during the (base closure) process.”

The Pentagon in 2005 projected Eielson’s loss at 2,821 military jobs and 319 civilian jobs — just under 4 percent of the Fairbank North Star Borough population without counting 3,300 dependents. The military estimated a savings of $2.7 billion over 20 years at Eielson.

When the Base Realignment and Closure Commission visited Fairbanks a month after the announcement, the community responded by turning out in the thousands for hearings.

“You’re talking about taking away a large percentage of that military strength in the economy, that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor Luke Hopkins. “When you take a whole training squadron, it’s awfully big impact for us.”

Hopkins said he expects to see and help coordinate a community-driven effort against the move, similar to the 2005 effort.

The 21 fighter jets will be relocated to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, “allowing us to achieve savings in base support at Eielson,” according to the report obtained Friday by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The transfer will take place in fiscal year 2013. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage will have some H-130 cargo planes retired or transferred the same year, the report said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week the Pentagon will seek new rounds of military base closures, prompting Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Sean Parnell to issue a joint statement saying they will stand together to resist attempts to close or shrink Alaska bases.

“It is the biggest industry we’ve got,” said Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. President Jim Dodson. “It not only is the largest employer, but it also is right close to the top with the highest average payroll, so they have good wages and their contribution to the economy is pretty huge.”

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