Fairbanks offers good arguments for F-16s

Air Force officials received an earful from Fairbanks area residents and their elected leaders during the past two days of hearings. The range and depth of comments surely must give the Air Force some pause as it nears a final decision on whether to move F-16 fighter jets from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Fairbanks has a huge economic interest in the outcome. For some, that’s reason to view the points raised by our representatives with some skepticism. However, economic interest merely explains why Fairbanks leaders have been so persistent in raising the arguments. It doesn’t defeat the arguments.

The issues involve everything from the well-being of military personnel to global strategy. Some of the more obvious deficiencies of the Air Force plan have been much discussed. But consider some of the lesser-known but still important points being made by our representatives this week.

• The Army uses a variety of facilities at Eielson. It needs them. If the Air Force shuts them down, it might save the Air Force some money. However, the Army would still need to use the facilities. It would cost money to maintain them. So the expected savings from closure of these specific facilities could be a phantom, from the broader perspective of the overall Department of Defense budget.

• All reasonable alternatives to a proposed action are supposed to be considered in the environmental impact statement process. The draft document created by the Air Force earlier this year lacked a thorough consideration of these alternatives. It wasn’t because the alternatives weren’tt brought to the Air Forces attention. It simply chose not to explore them.

• Military personnel need security clearances for their jobs. Lacking such clearance can limit advancement. One factor that can block a persons eligibility for clearance is a record of home foreclosure. (The thinking is that foreclosure indicates a level of financial stress that can affect a person’s judgment if they’re presented with an opportunity to profit from the sale of secrets.) The reassignment of a large number of personnel to Anchorage could depress the housing market around Eielson even further and leave people with no ability to pay what they owe on homes that they must sell. Foreclosure could be a result. Air Force personnel could suffer lasting damage through no fault of their own.

• The alleged savings from the F-16 move come in part from the destruction of 17 buildings at Eielson. The demolition of nearly new buildings must be accounted for as an enormous cost, not only in lost asset value but also in lost opportunity, when calculating any savings from the move. In less accountant-like language: What a waste.

These and many other arguments make it imperative that the Air Force at least back up and reassess the conclusions reached in its draft environmental impact statement.

Some would dismiss Fairbanks interest as just money-grubbing. Yes, it is primarily about money, the nation’s money, which should not be spent in a fashion that appears penny wise but is pound foolish. Fairbanksans, regardless of their financial interests, have the right and obligation to make that argument as persistently as possible.

07/25/2013 - 6:55am