With the preservation of Fairchild Air Force Base in mind, the Airway Heights City Council on Monday adopted a smart land-use plan that allows for growth without the kind of encroachment that has sealed the fate of military installations around the country.
That sigh of relief is from regional civilian and military leaders who realize they need each other for survival.
Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, and his staff worked with Airway Heights staff to produce the rules that honor that commitment. United efforts like this are needed on two fronts, as the region lobbies to land the new generation of KC-46A tankers and makes the case for Fairchild to survive a new round of base closings.
Another key development is that tribal leaders, according to Airway Heights officials, have agreed to avoid encroachment as they look to expand their economic activities. All eyes are on the Spokane Tribe’s application to build a large casino complex, which awaits approval from the feds and then the governor.
Gov. Chris Gregoire recently told the editorial board that she believes that decision, if needed, would be made by the next governor, Jay Inslee. However, she said the state is treating a new round of base closings as a foregone conclusion. The consensus seems to be that the Base Realignment and Closure process will begin anew in the non-election years of 2015 or 2017. The governor’s office has already mobilized efforts to preserve bases within the state.
With the adoption of a base-sensitive land-use plan, Airway Heights joins Spokane and Spokane County. That leaves Medical Lake, which has yet to act. We trust its leaders understand the absolute necessity in doing everything possible to preserve Fairchild. It’s imperative they consult the Joint Land Use Study, which delineates the types of development that would hem in the base on the ground and in the air.
Other municipalities around the country have failed to do so, and have lost their military bases. If that were to happen here, the economic impact would be devastating. Fairchild is the region’s largest employer, with about 5,700 military and civilian personnel. The base’s presence sustains thousands of other jobs.
West Plains communities will need to grow, but as the Airway Heights plan shows, it can be done in a balanced way that doesn’t threaten the base or disregard private property rights. In cooperation with Spokane County, future development in Airway Heights would be funneled to the northeast, where it would have minimal impact on the base.
When Fairchild opened in the 1940s, Spokane County only had 165,000 people. By 2027, the population is projected to be 565,000. We need to continue this coordinated effort to provide buffers for this vital installation. If the mission fails, the region’s prosperity will take a direct hit.