A draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the Air Force Friday recommends downsizing Eielson Air Force Base for cost savings, but Alaska’s leaders argue the document ignores requests for cost reduction estimates and fails to consider the local impact.
The long awaited EIS offers three alternatives. Two explore the impacts of moving the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf- Richardson near Anchorage. The third includes no action.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich thinks the Air Force should have considered the benefits of keeping the F-16s where they are.
“First off, they’re adjacent to some of the best training ground in the country when it comes to the air capacity there,” says Senator Begich. “Along with the army is now looking at that space for additional partnerships with the Air Force.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity here and it’s almost like they ignored all that and they just said well we gotta check they box and get the EIS done. It’s a disservice to our military and to the people of Fairbanks.”
According to the Air Force, moving the F-16s will result in significant cost savings, but the Alaska delegation argues the move will actually cost money as the Air Force struggles to find appropriate housing and accommodations for both the aircraft and associated personnel.
Matthew Felling is the Communications Director for U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.
“We have yet to see anything that is not red ink from this equation,” says Felling. “Secondly, we know in Alaska that the Asia Pacific Region is heating up and the nation knows that the Pentagon has decided that this is going to be our focal point for the future, to take a look west.”
“Eielson is in the pull position for this new philosophy so why are we taking a look at undercutting it and short sheeting it when we should be building it up?”
According to the EIS, the move would result in the largest increase in unemployment in the Fairbanks are in the last decade. It would also force the closure of two schools in the Fairbanks North Star Borough and increase noise pollution in and around JBER.
A group of state and local leaders, who call themselves the “Tiger Team” have met regularly in Fairbanks for more than a year to discuss the Air Force’s proposal.
Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says the group is also unhappy with the Draft EIS.
“It’s still the house of cards perception that is very disconcerting to me when we see a document that doesn’t have all the content we expected to have in it and in 10 working days you’ll have a public hearing,” Mayor Hopkins says.
Public hearings on the draft EIS are scheduled in Palmer and Anchorage on June 17 and 18. Hearings are also scheduled in North Pole in Fairbanks June 19 and 20.
Local leaders says that’s not enough time. The Air Force will accept public comment on the document through July 31. A final record of decision on the proposal to relocate the F-16s is expected this fall.