by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Niagara County leaders intent on protecting the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and its 3,000 jobs are set to hire a consulting firm specializing in protecting military installations from defense cuts as the Obama Administration gears up to potentially launch a new round of base closures.
The Principi Group, headed by former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi, who also chaired the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), is being hired by the county as part of an effort funded largely through a $300,000 state military base retention grant awarded earlier this year.
Under the county's pending contract with the Principi Group, the Arlington, Va.-based consulting firm will draft a "Future Mission Study" for the Niagara Falls air base.
"This is a very serious effort on our part to protect our base and our local workers," Legislator Kathryn Lance, R-Wheatfield, whose district includes a significant portion of the base, said. "When we lose missions at our base, when we lose aircraft, we also lose jobs - jobs that result in an estimated $200 million local economic impact. By bringing in top consultants, we are hoping to protect as many of those jobs as possible."
Lance, a second-year lawmaker who chairs the county's Economic Development Committee, has been actively involved in efforts to protect the base since being sworn in last January.
"This is an economic issue, but it's really about protecting families - the families of 3,000 of our neighbors," Lance said. "The air base is our top employer - a fact that has to guide this process moving forward."
The decision to contract with Principi came after the county solicited bids for the contract work and brought local stakeholders together to devise a strategy to protect the base. County officials were joined in reviewing bids for the contract work and interviewing finalists were representatives of the Niagara Military Affairs Council (NIMAC), the Niagara USA Chamber, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
The cost of the retention efforts is being covered by a state-provided grant, rather than through local taxes - and Niagara County's top state representative said he was pleased to see the county being proactive on base retention.
"The Niagara Falls air base is Niagara County's largest employer and its success is vital to our community," said Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane. "I'm pleased that numerous community stakeholders came together to carefully select the new consultant, ensuring that everyone is working towards the continued survival of the air base. I look forward to working with The Principi Group and assisting them in any way that I can to make sure the Niagara Falls air base is running for many years to come."
Legislator Dave Godfrey, R-Wilson, the County Legislature's liaison to NIMAC, agreed with Maziarz, noting that county lawmakers had endorsed a process that included various community stakeholders to ensure a well-rounded approach to preserving the base.
"This has really been a team effort by stakeholders, and the county is pleased with the contributions these other groups - the NFTA, NIMAC, and the Chamber - have made," Godfrey said. "When you consider the impact this base has on our community not just in the number of jobs, as Kathryn noted, but through the joint use agreement between the Niagara Falls International Airport and the base, you appreciate how critical a piece of infrastructure this is."
Godfrey, a veteran, also was critical of defense cuts that he sees as harming the nation's interests.
"I don't like it that we're even contemplating further force reductions in this world we live in, with rogue regimes making threats and the danger from terrorism still very real, but if the Department of Defense is set on making cuts, we're going to be proactive and do everything we can to protect our asset."
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, whose district also contains part of the base and who worked against previous BRACs that had targeted the base, said: "We want to see C-130 airframes stay at that base - as many as possible. In fact, we'd like to see more. But we also believe new missions, like the C-130 simulator, could be valuable to our efforts to protect jobs and protect a key piece of our national defense."
Ross also thanked the other groups involved in the process.
"We had good representation from the Chamber, and from the NFTA, and our partners at NIMAC," Ross said. "I think everyone is on the same page about protecting our top employer from precipitous budget cuts, and I think we all agree we're lucky to have Anthony Principi - someone who has actually been in charge of a BRAC process - helping us defend our base."