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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Kevin Parker: Land buffer would help ensure Fairchild future in region

Guest opinion

Our federal delegation has always embodied the community pride we have in Fairchild Air Force Base.

Former House Speaker Tom Foley protected Fairchild during repeated rounds of base closing in the 1980s and 1990s.

First lady Laura Bush personally recognized Rep. George Nethercutt for securing funds to modernize Fairchild during his tenure.

And Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers successfully protected the base during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure

Today, we stand at another critical juncture, and we as a community must rally again to further Fairchild.

Outside of my work on the state’s $37 billion budget, my No. 1 priority in the Legislature has been securing a state capital budget request to purchase two mobile home parks in the Accidental Potential Zone, then getting the property rezoned for industrial use, and eventually selling the land back into the private sector. In the latest draft of the capital budget, the Legislature has allocated $1,500,000 to this project.

After exhausting all the options for how to address this issue, I believe this is the only solution. Simply rezoning the property would not work because the mobile homes would be grandfathered in, and the problem would continue to exist. While I would normally oppose the state getting involved with real estate purchases, the immediacy in this case is too high.

The APZ is the area beyond the clear zone of a runway which remains at-risk in the event of an accident. These mobile park developments were listed specifically among the reasons Spokane was not awarded the first round of KC-46A tankers, which if stationed at Fairchild would secure the future of the base for years. The developments are an encroachment on the base area that could count negatively in the next round of base closures.

The U.S. Air Force has stated that perhaps 22 percent of its bases are surplus, which is why we have been in a build-down phase embodied in the Base Realignment and Closure Commission Act of 1990. This legislation has resulted in five rounds of base closures, with more expected in the future. These closures consider eight criteria, including economic impact on the community, the role in the overall mission of the U.S. Department of Defense, and the ability of the surrounding area to accommodate the base.

In the Joint Land Use Study completed in 2012, it was found that Fairchild accounts for $675 million in overall economic impact throughout the Spokane region, with 1,942 jobs created throughout our community outside of Fairchild. If the base were to close, the impact on our local economy would be substantial. It is imperative we do all we can locally to keep Fairchild strong, giving the base the infrastructure backbone it needs to proudly stand on its own merits.

In surveys of the area, 82 percent of residents indicated that they were willing to move. Because of the age and style of these structures, many of these homes are in poor condition. Residents have indicated that the noise from these planes passing overhead negatively affects their quality of life. Coupled with the risk of a residential plane crash, we as a community must change the situation.

Our history of supporting Fairchild can be traced back to the origin of the base. When the War Department was making its site selection, our local community stepped up and purchased 1,400 acres in 1941. Spokane has always risen to the occasion to support Fairchild, and once again we find ourselves there today.

Perhaps the greatest thank-you we can give to all those who have served is doing our part in furthering and protecting the mission of Fairchild and positioning it for the future.

Rep. Kevin Parker represents the 6th Legislative District in Spokane.
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