By Jill Keppeler
A first response and emergency center planned for Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station would include a new hub for such entities as Mercy Flight and Niagara County Emergency Services - and, officials hope, keep the station safe from any future closure plans.
State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-C-I-North Tonawanda, gathered Monday with other state and local officials to announce $500,000 in state funding for the project. He called it "seed money" for the first phase of the center, which could house training and supply sites, helicopter hangar space and local headquarters for a number of emergency-management-related organizations.
"I think it's great," said Jon Schultz, director of emergency services for the county. "It's a great opportunity not only for Niagara County, but for all of Western New York."
Ortt said the nearest facility of the kind is more than 90 miles away and the center's presence at the base could help keep the station off the Base Realignment and Closure list, on which appeared in 1995 and 2005. The station is Niagara County's largest employer.
"We need to do what we can to fortify the air base, and keep it here for many years to come," he said, adding that the more the base is part of the community, the more viable it is.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, also stressed the importance of the site.
"This helps make the base BRAC-proof," he said.
The empty space where the center would be located is the former Niagara Falls Army Reserve Center. There are 10 buildings on the 19.4-acre site, including hangar space - which would house four to five helicopters for Mercy Flight and the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, Ortt said. The plans could also include housing for the associated flight crews.
The 107th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard, stationed at the base, would also be involved in the project.
"We want this to be a living, breathing, everyday facility," Ortt said.
Ortt didn't have any job estimations for the project immediately, noting it could take years for it to come to fruition. He said the project could ultimately take $2 1/2 million to $3 million or more.