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Leaders Get Mixed Message On Fairchild

Fairchild Air Force Base stands a good chance of staying off the list of military facilities the Pentagon wants to close, Spokane business and political leaders said Monday.

But a federal panel might consider closing the West Plains base anyway.

A trip to Washington, D.C., last week convinced local leaders they should prepare to defend Fairchild against any suggestion it be closed, said Larry Stanley, chairman of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We were told this early work is extremely valid,” he said.

The chamber, Momentum, other groups and local governments may spend up to $200,000 to fight any proposal to close the base.

Chamber President Rich Hadley said a special task force will soon ask the Spokane City Council and the Board of County Commissioners for contributions - “less than $20,000 each” - to help the campaign.

Mayor Jack Geraghty said he believed the public money would be available.

“I think that obviously, the council is concerned about the closure,” said Geraghty, who was among those who made the trip to Washington, D.C.

The group talked with people in Congress, the Pentagon and at the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to sound out the prospects for Fairchild.

They came away with some mixed messages.

Gen. Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff, told them he was committed to “core tanker bases” for the nation’s military structure.

That’s a plus for Fairchild, which is the world’s largest aerial refueling base.

Also on the plus side, Defense Secretary William Perry predicted fewer bases would be closed than originally thought.

But the Pentagon is being tight-lipped about what criteria it is using to determine which bases are expendable.

The closure commission isn’t saying how many bases it will want to compare to the ones on the Pentagon’s list, to make sure the right facilities are being shut down.

In 1993, Fairchild was not on the Pentagon list, but was placed on a comparison list by the commission. The panel visited Fairchild and held a hearing in Spokane before deciding to keep the base open.