by Susan Mikula Campbell
Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey has been drumming up support for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and the work of the Niagara Military Affairs Council.
"We need to make this base the base of choice not only for the governor but for the Department of Defense," Godfrey told the Wheatfield Town Board at its Aug. 27 meeting.
Even though Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to the base on Aug. 9 was a plus, his talk was "middle of the road" and the reality is the 107th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard is still targeted, Godfrey said. He noted that the state has five guard bases and one, maybe two, will have to close.
Godfrey, who is a member of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, said both Niagara and Erie counties, plus local government, have to come together to promote new missions for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. The base is run by the Air Force and also is the home of the 914th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve.
Niagara's base has the longest runways as well as room to expand, Godfrey pointed out. The base also has an economic impact on the area of $200 million annually.
NIMAC Chairman Merrell Lane confirmed this week that Hyjek & Fix LLC, a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C., that has represented the group for about 17 years, is now working for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. As such, it will represent all five bases.
Lane said the possibility of Empire State Development grant funds being available for the fight to retain bases in the state is being investigated.
NIMAC is waiting to see what the strategy will be for the bases in New York, Lane said. He added that there is no specific information yet on the Air Force's plans for the base in general, although Panetta did say he considers Niagara an important base.
The Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday approved by a 10-3 vote the hiring of Capitol Public Strategies at $5,000 a month for the rest of year. Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said the firm, which is based in Albany and is expected to merge with a Washington firm, was hired by the county several months ago to work closely with county's Center for Economic Development. Tuesday's action extends the contract. The firm was hired to assist the county in seeking ways to improve economic development and bring new business, such as air cargo, into the county, but also among its duties will be working on behalf of the base, the county's largest employer.
"We did everything we could back in 2005 to retain the base," Ross said, referring to the fight against the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission. "We'll continue to work along those lines. ... We know where our bread and butter is."
Lane said another round of possible BRAC suggestions for closing isn't expected until 2014 or later, so it's too early to launch an all-out public campaign like the one in 2005, but it's definitely a possibility for the future.
"We will be ready for whatever the Air Force decides to do," he said.