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Congress Ready To Fix Up Fairchild Murray, Nethercutt Each Has Bill To Refurbish Air Base

Thu., July 17, 1997

Taxpayers would spend more than $38 million on improvements to Fairchild Air Force Base next year if both houses of Congress get their way.

That’s about $30 million more than President Clinton wants to spend at the base for fiscal 1998.

Two plans to increase the amount of military construction at Fairchild are moving through Congress, shepherded by Democratic Sen.

Patty Murray and Republican Rep. George Nethercutt.

If Congress settles on a compromise that includes both plans’ projects, the base would get a new operations building, a new education center, expanded maintenance hangars, a bigger fire station, an addition to the Survival School and renovated housing for its families.

All are in the Pentagon’s long-range plan for the base, but some weren’t on the schedule until early next century.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected today to approve one version of next year’s military construction budget, which includes more than $23.7 million for four major construction projects at the base west of Spokane.

Murray, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the military construction appropriations subcommittee, helped write that bill. After the subcommittee approved the measure Tuesday, she said she was pleased with the additions.

“These are projects that are the top requests of the base and the Spokane community,” Murray said.

Her staff visited bases around Washington state and talked with families and base officials. Because of her conversations with Fairchild families, she added an $8 million education center and library to the base’s 1998 construction list.

It would replace a 1943 building with a leaky roof and a fire-detection system that doesn’t meet current building codes, she said. The Pentagon planned the project for 2001. “This is a quality of life issue,” Murray said. “I think (Pentagon officials) don’t tend to look at this type of project as much as they need to.”

The Senate proposal also includes:

$7.3 million for an operations center for one of the base’s five KC-135 tanker squadrons. This was the only project for Fairchild in Clinton’s budget.

$4.75 million to expand the fire station, on the Pentagon’s plan for 2000.

$3.7 million for the second phase of the Survival School training complex, planned for 2001.

The House of Representatives has already approved its military construction budget with $22.3 million for three Fairchild projects. Only the tanker squadron center is common to the House and Senate versions.

Added to the House spending plan were $9.5 million to extend the maintenance hangars for the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing.

When tankers park in the hangars for maintenance, the tail sections remain outside, said Ken Lisaius, a spokesman for Nethercutt. The renovations would allow the planes to be completely covered, protecting maintenance crews in inclement weather.

The House version also includes $5.5 million to renovate base housing, some of which is more than 40 years old. The money would rehabilitate 43 homes on the base near Fort Wright village.

The Senate is expected to vote on the nation’s military construction budget before its August recess. A special joint committee will then compare the spending plans and draft a single bill that can pass both houses.

As ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee, Murray will sit on that joint panel, called a conference committee. She said she’d work to get as many of the additional projects as possible in the final spending plan.

, DataTimes


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