Fairchild Air Force Base is all but certain to escape closure this year as the nation continues to scale back its military.
A special federal panel compiled a list Wednesday of bases it wants to compare to the bases the Pentagon wants to close or shrink. Fairchild isn’t on that list, or the earlier one from the Defense Department.
“We believe that on this round we are in the clear,” said Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, which was prepared to spend up to $175,000 in a fight to keep Fairchild open. “It’s a great feeling.”
The Base Closure and Realignment Commission will give Congress a list of bases this summer. Wednesday it added 35 possible alternatives to the 146 bases the Pentagon wants to close or shrink.
Washington state, which has one of the highest concentrations of military facilities and personnel in the nation, could escape this latest round of closures unscathed.
No major military base in the state is on either list. Mountain Home Air Force Base near Boise also remained off of closure lists.
“The feeling is there is a national and an international mission for the Northwest,” said U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, who serves on the House military appropriations subcommittee.
Nethercutt, a Spokane Republican, said the community was well-prepared to give the baseclosure commission the information it needed on Fairchild.
The chamber, Momentum ‘95, city and county officials assembled a task force and hired national consultants to prepare arguments to keep Fairchild open. Hadley estimated the group spent about $110,000 so far on the effort, out of the $175,000 budgeted for the project.
“We’re really grateful for the community support,” said Sgt. Allen Geisler, a base spokesman.
The commission can add bases to its list of alternates through the end of the month. But Wednesday’s hearings made it unlikely Fairchild will be considered, Hadley and Nethercutt agreed.
Changes under consideration by the commission could actually add planes and personnel to Fairchild.
The Air Force wants to scale back operations at two northern bases that are the home to both KC-135 refueling tankers and Minuteman missiles. Earlier this year it suggested moving the 12 tankers out of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, but keeping the missiles there. It also proposed closing the missile unit at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, but keeping some 48 tankers there.
On Thursday, the commission said it would look at closing Grand Forks completely and moving the tankers out of Malmstrom.
Some of those tankers would be sent to a base in Florida. Others could be moved to Fairchild, which is already the world’s largest tanker base, congressional sources said.