Senate funds base-closure panel

$1 million appropriated for task force

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Alaska Senate on Tuesday approved giving $1 million to a task force that aims to counter the Pentagon's planned cuts of more than 4,800 military and civilian jobs in the state.

Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks would lose its fighter squadrons and about 3,000 jobs under last week's base realignment and closure announcement. Kulis Air National Guard Station in Anchorage would close completely.

Senate Finance Co-Chairman Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said the state has to try to keep those cuts from happening. The 15-member task force created by Gov. Frank Murkowski would be charged with coming up with a response to the BRAC commission within a couple of months.

The Senate Finance Committee included the appropriation in a supplemental spending bill for this year. The money would be combined with a $500,000 grant the Fairbanks North Star Borough assembly was to consider Tuesday night.

The money would pay for consultants, financial analyses, public campaigning, along with travel to and from Washington, D.C., and towns affected by previous base closures or realignment.

Wilken said the argument for keeping the bases open and fully staffed could come in two parts: homeland security and keeping a strategic military presence in the North.

It is necessary to have two bases in Alaska to protect the Arctic region, Wilken said. Elmendorf Air Force Base is located near Anchorage.

"There has to be a backup for Elmendorf in the Arctic, and that has to be Eielson," Wilken said.

Homeland security also is an issue, said Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline and a proposed natural gas pipeline need to be protected, he said. Relocating military assets to Anchorage would contribute to leaving the pipeline vulnerable, he said.

In 1995, 85 percent of the BRAC recommendations were accepted, and those bases were closed or realigned, Wilken said.

"We need to be part of that 15 percent," he said.

The Senate passed the supplemental spending bill and a capital budget bill on Tuesday.

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