Falls Air Base project may be cut to build wall

Any de­lay in July tar­get for award­ing funds could hurt con­struc­tion plan

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - By Thomas J. Pro­haska

If the Pen­tagon meets its sched­ule for award­ing a con­struc­tion con­tract, a planned $14 mil­lion fit­ness and train­ing cen­ter at the Ni­a­gara Falls Air Re­serve Sta­tion is not among the projects that could be cut if Pres­i­dent Trump trans­fers money from sched­uled mil­i­tary con­struc­tion to a planned wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der.

But if the July tar­get for award­ing the project isn’t met, and if Trump goes ahead with his method of pay­ing for the wall, the Ni­a­gara Falls project might lose its fund­ing af­ter all.

A list of projects, is­sued by the Pen­tagon this week, was pub­li­cized Wed­nes­day by Rep. Brian Hig­gins, D-Buf­falo, whose dis­trict in­cludes the air base.

The list in­cludes more than 400 projects al­ready ap­proved, to­tal­ing al­most $6.8 bil­lion, whose con­struc­tion con­tracts had not been awarded as of Dec. 31. The re­port says that fig­ure is more than the amount needed to build the wall.

But the doc­u­ment’s in­tro­duc­tion says that just be­cause a project is on the list, that doesn’t guar­an­tee its fund­ing will be can­celed if the Pen­tagon needs to find money for the wall.

The Pen­tagon doc­u­ment says that if the De­fense Depart­ment’s bud­get for the fis­cal year start­ing Oct. 1 is passed on time, no projects will be cut to pay for the wall.

Other­wise, the doc­u­ment says, only projects whose con­struc­tion con­tracts are to be awarded af­ter Sept. 30 are at risk.

Be­low the Ni­a­gara Falls project, which is listed on the last page of the re­port, is the date July 2019, which is the sched­uled con­tract award date.

“The July 2019 date is a tar­get,” Hig­gins spokes­woman Theresa Kennedy said. “Should the project time­line at the Ni­a­gara Falls base change or be de­layed by just a cou­ple months, which is all too com­mon in gov­ern­ment con­tract­ing, it would fit squarely in the cri­te­ria set forth.”

Kennedy noted that the Pen­tagon’s cri­te­ria for where to find the wall money “are self­im­posed.” The fit­ness cen­ter is im­por­tant for the mem­bers of the units at the Ni­a­gara Falls base – the 107th At­tack Wing of the New York Air Na­tional Guard and the 914th Air Re­fu­el­ing Wing of the Air Force Re­serve – to be in con­di­tion to carry out their mis­sions, said John A. Cooper Sr., chair­man of the Ni­a­gara Mil­i­tary Af­fairs Coun­cil, a civil­ian group which sup­ports the base and lob­bies on its be­half.

“It’s not a gym just for the fun of hav­ing a gym,” Cooper said. “It is a place for air­men to train and re­main qual­i­fied.”

Cooper said the new cen­ter would be built next to the ex­ist­ing one, which would be de­mol­ished and re­placed with a park­ing lot. The $14 mil­lion price tag in­cludes all that work, Cooper said.

“The one we have at the pre­sent time doesn’t meet Air Force reg­u­la­tions. It’s old,” Cooper said. He said he thought the cur­rent cen­ter might have been erected in the 1950s.

Last month, Trump de­clared a na­tional emer­gency in or­der to ac­cess money for the wall he promised to build dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign. He also promised that Mex­ico would pay for it, which the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has re­fused to do.

The House and Se­nate both voted to block Trump’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion. Trump ve­toed the bill Fri­day. At­tempts to over­ride his veto are ex­pected next week.

“United States mil­i­tary mem­bers here at home and across the globe will take a huge hit if the pres­i­dent’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion pro­ceeds,” Hig­gins said in the news re­lease. “In Western New York we are at risk of los­ing a project de­signed to sup­port mil­i­tary readi­ness and lose the jobs and eco­nomic ben­e­fits that come with a ma-

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