September 11, 1997 in City

Fairchild Projects Find Favor With Congress Base Will See $30 Million In Construction If Spending Bill Stays On Course

By The Spokesman-Review

Fairchild Air Force Base would move into the 21st century a couple of years early under a deal Congress reached this week on the nation’s military construction budget.

Negotiators for the two houses of Congress have said some $30 million should be spent starting next year at the West Plains base. They want to move up the schedule for three major construction projects.

President Clinton’s 1998 budget had proposed a $7.3 million operations center for one of the base’s KC-135 squadrons.

The Senate and House of Representatives both approved that project, then decided to move up other projects the Pentagon had scheduled for after the year 2000.

One small hitch, however: The two houses picked different projects to move up. Those differences were among many ironed out in a conference committee that settled on identical spending bills to send to each house.

Although that’s part of the regular spending process in Washington, D.C., congressional watchdog groups frequently criticize such additions as pork barrel. Fairchild officials were quick Wednesday to counter that criticism before it was made.

“These are not just something a person dreamed up to promote a political agenda,” said Fred Zitterkopf of the base civil engineering office. “These are projects that are absolutely needed for the long-term tanker mission at Fairchild.”

The base is the largest tanker facility in the world, with about 70 KC-135s assigned to it.

The revised spending bill includes:

$9.5 million to upgrade the flight-line facilities used by the Washington Air National Guard. Some of the money will be used to expand maintenance hangars so they can enclose a complete plane; currently, the tail of a KC-135 sticks out when the rest of the plane is being repaired.

$8 million for an education center and library, which replaces an existing facility that is more than 50 years old. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the center was a quality of life issue for Fairchild staff.

$4.75 million to renovate the fire station, which currently does not have stalls for all of its fire engines.

The compromise military construction budget is expected to pass Congress and be sent to Clinton this month.

If Clinton signs the bill, Zitterkopf said all projects would be under construction by next summer, but some might not be completed until fall 1999.

, DataTimes

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