Air Force closure would be critical blow for Galena

Native corporation would lose millions

Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Chugach Alaska Corp. stands to lose millions of dollars it now receives from the U.S. Air Force if military facilities in Galena are closed.

The Native corporation maintains the Galena Airport Forward Operating Location, which recently was added to the potential closure list being scrutinized by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Chugach, the Anchorage-based regional Native corporation for the Prince William Sound area, has an $8.5 million contract with the Air Force to maintain facilities at Galena.

The town of 700 sits on the north bank of the Yukon River about 275 miles west of Fairbanks.

Galena at one time hosted fighters on constant alert to intercept aircraft from the former Soviet Union. When that threat faded, the Air Force removed the fighters and hired a contractor to maintain the facilities for less frequent use.

BRAC commissioners suggested Tuesday that Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks could handle Galena's reduced functions. That's regardless of whether Eielson loses most of its Air Force personnel and all its resident jets, as proposed by the Pentagon.

Beth Welty, communications specialist with Chugach, said the subsidiary, Chugach Support Services, has about 44 employees in Galena.

The company maintains several structures, operates the water and wastewater plant and provides food and lodging for Air Force personnel, she said.

Galena City Manager Marvin Yoder said the Air Force structures include a headquarters building, a large auto maintenance shop, a fire department with about a half-dozen vehicles and a boiler plant. The contract workers also maintain a runway barrier system.

After the Chugach contract, the next largest expense for the Air Force at Galena is electricity, which will cost between $1.35 million and $1.45 million for the fiscal year ending Oct. 1, according to the figures from Law.

The Air Force also expects to pay the state $442,000 to plow and brush the 7,200-foot runway. That money is on top of about $180,000 the state spends from its own treasury to maintain the runway.

The Air Force pays another $58,000 to lease communications circuits, $21,000 to dump garbage at the landfill and $5,000 for right of way leases.

It all adds up to between $10.4 million and $11.3 million for the current fiscal year, military officials said.

BRAC officials estimate that closing the Galena facilities would eliminate about 2.2 percent of the jobs in the Galena region.

Yoder, though, estimated 25 percent of the jobs in the town's immediate area could disappear. The commission figure covered the entire Galena region, which includes the villages of Nulato, Kaltag, Koyukuk, Ruby and Huslia. The impact on Galena alone is relatively larger.

Also, Yoder said, the commission figure appears to only count the people employed by Chugach at the Air Force facilities.

Those facilities, however, also house a boarding and vocational school run by the Galena School District. If the district has to bear the entire cost of running the base's central heating system, it might not be affordable, Yoder said. Closing the boarding and vocational school would cut another 30 jobs.

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