Spokane business leaders are preparing to spend up to $200,000 on a strategy that will defend Fairchild Air Force Base against the threat of closure.
They said Friday they must mount such a defense - with funds from local businesses, development groups and government coffers - even though they are convinced the West Plains base is a vital part of the nation’s military plan.
It should be kept open for its strategic value, not simply because it represents 4,500 jobs and a $350 million economic boost to the local economy, said Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce.
The business leaders don’t think they can relax, even though Fairchild was reviewed by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission two years ago, Hadley said at a news conference.
“The stakes are a lot higher this time,” he said. “We need to be more competitive.”
A special task force has hired former Brig. Gen. John Allen, who was a wing commander at Fairchild in the early 1980s, to coordinate that defense.
He said Spokane has a right to be cautious, even though Fairchild is a good base.
The federal panel has already cut the fat, and even most of the meat from the long list of the nation’s military installations, said Allen, who now works as a consultant for communities trying to save their bases.
“They are really and truly cutting down to the bone,” he said. “There are going to be good, solid, effective bases closed.”
One of those will probably be a base that is the home to a wing of aerial refueling tankers, Allen predicted.
He doubted Fairchild, the nation’s largest tanker base, would be on the list of bases the Pentagon wants to close, which will be announced March 1. But it may be put on a list of similar bases that the commission will compare with the Pentagon’s list.
If that happens, Spokane must be ready to analyze the data, point out any errors and make a case that Fairchild is more vital than another tanker base.
U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, who was present at the press conference via telephone, said he doubted the Pentagon would want to close the base. But the plan was a good “better safe than sorry” strategy, he said.
A member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Nethercutt campaigned last year against wasteful government spending. Friday he said he couldn’t speculate on what he would do if Fairchild was placed on the Pentagon’s closure list.
“That’s probably too hypothetical,” he said, adding he was convinced the base was not pork but an “absolutely necessary” military installation.