Citizens of Spokane County have shown themselves to be stalwart supporters of Fairchild Air Force Base, its personnel and its missions over seven decades.
When the Geiger Spur Rail Line encroached upon Fairchild’s entry gate, the community relocated it. When a mining operation occupied land at the east end of Fairchild’s runway in the Clear Zone, the community removed it. There are numerous other instances when the community has demonstrated its resolve in protecting one of our significant assets in Fairchild.
Now, the community must act on another identified threat to Fairchild’s mission: high-density residential encroachment in the Accident Potential Zone (APZ) beyond the end of Fairchild’s runway.
Over the years, in every meeting we’ve attended with Air Force officials on the topic of preserving and supporting Fairchild, we’ve been told, most emphatically, “Protect your base from encroachment.” From my own personal experience, this goes back to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process.
As a result of that advice, a Joint Land Use Study was conducted with guidelines and funding provided by the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment. Fairchild provided technical support. With this past year’s adoption of the recommendations from the land-use study, the areas surrounding the base are now zoned and qualified as “compatible use” in concert with Air Force determinations. Now, it is our charge to alleviate existing encroachments that are deemed incompatible and constitute a threat to base operations.
As a whole, Fairchild has a $1.3 billion annual economic impact to our region. Over nine years, that impact multiplies to $11.7 billion. The $18 million from Proposition 1, while significant, pales when compared to the annual impact if Fairchild were to close. Without the 6,000 positions at Fairchild, coupled with their 8,000 dependents, there would be more housing vacancies that lower regional home values, decreased retail sales due to fewer residents in our stores, less demand for professional services, and so on. I could continue but the picture should be clear: Protecting our base is extremely important.
Spokane County’s Proposition 1 is specifically designed to eliminate the APZ encroachment. Approval of this measure would levy a property tax of up to 6.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in Spokane County. The levy would run for no more than nine years, raising the aforementioned $18 million to purchase land in the APZ, demolish the existing structures while remediating the land and provide for respectful relocation of its residents. Spokane County is currently working with area nonprofits to establish a sustainable, safe relocation plan. Currently, 188 mobile home units occupy land within the APZ, putting the safety of the residents under threat.
Housing in the APZ is deemed a “significant incompatible use” by the Department of Defense. Housing is allowable in APZs, but no denser than two units per acre. The APZ housing greatly exceeds that limit. The units were placed in the 1960s, before the current criteria used to gauge encroachment were determined.
For the future, the county will place deed restrictions on the land, restricting any use inconsistent with the guidelines of the land-use study, thereby permanently removing this threat.
This situation is no fault of the residents. However, protecting the base is our job as a community, not the federal government’s, and we must act.
This encroachment wasn’t the ultimate reason Fairchild finished behind McConnell Air Force Base in the quest for KC-46A tankers, yet it must be addressed to help protect the base from closure, and to promote it for new missions. We’ve seen that this encroachment cost the base points during the recent KC-46A basing process. Proposition 1 presents an opportunity to improve our competitive position for the next selection round. Also, the Department of Defense has requested a round of base closures within the next few years to reduce the military’s inventory. The time for action is now.
While it may be tempting to correlate the proposed Spokane Tribal Casino development to this effort, this is a separate, unrelated threat. This one is in our control. Let’s send the message that we support Fairchild and remove this encroachment by approving Proposition 1.
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