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Legislature backs calls for new mission for 107th Air Wing

by jmaloni
Wed, Mar 21st 2012 07:45 am

Lance resolution supports "spy plane" mission to save jobs

by Christian W. Peck

Public Information Officer

Niagara County Public Information Office

Niagara County lawmakers unanimously backed a proposal to assign a new mission to the 107th Air Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station after a freshman legislator whose district includes the vulnerable air base asked colleagues to get behind the proposal as "the best option currently on the table."

Legislator Kathryn Lance, R-Wheatfield, introduced a resolution in the County Legislature Tuesday that made the deliberative body one of the first to formally back a plan, cobbled together by a federally chartered panel of governors, that would shift the 107th Airlift Wing—which currently flies C-130 transport aircraft—to a reconnaissance role.

The proposed shift would see the unit likely move to either MC-12 reconnaissance planes or unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator drones that have featured so prominently in the War on Terror. It was proposed last week by the Council of Governors, a post-9/11 legally mandated body composed of state chief executives from throughout the U.S. tasked with providing input on homeland security matters.

The MC-12 is the U.S. Air Force's newest spy plane, having entered the inventory in 2009.

Lance introduced the resolution after attending a Monday morning breakfast with officials from the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce, Niagara Military Affairs Council, and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. The breakfast served as a briefing and strategy session with Steve Hyjek, of the lobbying firm Hyjek & Fix, who has directed advocacy efforts on behalf of the base in Washington, D.C. The Council of Governors' proposal was among various ideas discussed for saving the base from budget cuts.

"The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station continues to be one of the largest employers in Western New York, including over 3,500 individuals from Niagara and Erie counties, as well as other parts of Western New York," Lance explained. "And the Air Reserve Station has a direct impact on local economies of $168 million per year."

"The loss of jobs and revenues from one of Niagara County's single largest employers would have a devastating impact on the region's economy and, likewise, would have devastating consequences for hundreds of Niagara County families," she said.

Lance noted that she concluded the Council of Governors proposal was among the most viable after seeing an editorial endorsing it in the Buffalo News last week.

On winning unanimous backing for her resolution in support of the Council of Governors proposal, Lance was blunt.

"The Niagara County Legislature does endorse any viable plan to preserve the 850 Air National Guard jobs, as well as full-time civilian support positions at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station," she said.

The proposal was also strongly backed by Wheatfield's other county representatives.

Legislator Dave Godfrey, R-Wilson, whose district passes just north of the air base, called passage of the measure "a critical step."

"Our region's economy derives significant benefit from that base," Godfrey said. "Moreover, though, as a veteran, I'm always troubled when I see extreme defense cuts. The 107th needs a mission - or we'll lose that unit, and so will our country."

Godfrey, along with Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, attended Monday's breakfast session with Lance.

"This is the best proposal on the table right now," Godfrey said. "We'll back this, and we'll back anything that protects the 107th and the Niagara Falls air base."

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