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Economic bright spot - Plans Include Road and Bridge Funds

Economic bright spot - Plans Include Road and Bridge Funds

Tulsa World Editorial

by: DAVID AVERILL Editor, Editorial Pages
Sunday, March 08, 2009
3/8/2009 5:15:23 AM

In 1988 Congress and the Department of Defense launched a round of military base realignment and closure efforts designed to do away with outmoded, inefficient and unneeded facilities and save billions of taxpayer dollars in the process.

Base closures were undertaken in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. More than 350 bases nationwide closed as a result of the first four rounds and another 14 were slated to close based on the 2005 review by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Thanks to efforts by local community leaders and state officials to improve their bases and ready them for new missions and joint operations preferred by the military, Oklahoma is the only state that has escaped losing a base as a result of the BRAC reviews.

Those efforts along with the investment of local and state dollars in infrastructure improvements have paid off in a big way for the communities involved. More than $2 billion in federal funds for military construction has poured into Oklahoma since 1995, and by 2011 another $2 billion in BRAC-related spending will come to the state.

Most of the money has gone to the state's five major bases — Altus Air Force Base at Altus, Tinker AFB at Midwest City, Vance AFB at Enid, the Army's Fort Sill at Lawton and the Army Ammunition Depot at McAlester. But communities around the state have benefitted as well. For example, the federal expenditure includes $300 million to close many of the 1930s-era armories around the state and build seven guard and reserve super centers, including one in Broken Arrow.

Enid's Vance AFB exemplifies Oklahoma's success in preserving and expanding its military bases while other states were losing theirs.

In the 1995 BRAC review, Vance was rated last among the nation's 13 Air Education Training Command bases, largely because the physical plant was substandard. It was on the BRAC commission's chopping block.

Enid city leaders created a base closure committee to deal with the threat. The city began appropriating money — more than $80 million to date — to purchase land around the base, which allowed for expansion of runways and protection against encroachment on the base's air space; to improve roads, water lines and waste-water treatment, and even to build a new elementary school on the base. The city also paid for college tuition, books and housing assistance for residents connected with the base. The state has chipped in more than $11 million to help with road and waste-water improvements.

The investment paid off. Not only was Vance spared being closed, its mission was expanded to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots in addition to Air Force pilots.

Now the top-rated of the 13 training command bases, it boasts a total economic impact of $242.3 million a year, including a payroll of $128.3 million. The base directly employs 2,515 people, almost all of them civilians hired by private contractors, and is indirectly responsible for another 980 jobs.

The Vance success story is repeated at the state's other bases, including the largest ones. Tinker AFB employs 23,000 people from seven central Oklahoma counties, with an annual payroll in excess of $1 billion. Fort Sill has 2,188 employees from 15 counties, with a $100 million payroll.

Each of the communities that is home to a major installation has a committee to deal with the base closure issue. In 2001 the state created the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, to spearhead the base-retention effort and to make the BRAC commissioners aware of what the state is doing. The state group is made up of five representatives of the towns where major bases are located, two members from the state House and Senate, the state adjutant general and a governor's representative.

Its chairman, Mike Cooper of Enid, says there has been a truly bipartisan effort by Gov. Brad Hentry and the Legislature to provide a $100 million bond pool to assist local communities with BRAC-related improvements such as roads and bridges, waste-water treatment facilities and schools; another $25 million to fund new roads, rail access and highway ramp improvements designed to improve access or security at the bases, and a $1 million annual appropriation to assist communities with base growth and expansion needs.

Cooper cites as key legislative players Sens. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, Randy Bass, D-Lawton, Don Barrington, R-Lawton, and Patrick Anderson, R-Enid; Reps. Don Armes, R-Faxon, Randy Terrill, R-Moore, Mike Jackson, R-Enid, and former Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus.

The combined effort of local leaders and state elected officials has proven successful — $2 billion in military construction funding since 1995 and another $2 billion to come by 2011; no bases closed and some kind of expansion at all five of the major bases and some of the smaller facilities, including the Air Guard unit at the Tulsa International Airport.

The military bases represent an economic bright spot in a state that can use some economic good news.

David Averill 581-8333
david.averill@tulsaworld. com

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