Wright-Patt to seek state infrastructure funds

Ohio lawmakers earmarked $5M to prepare for possible BRAC.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is expected to be among the contenders competing for a share of $5 million in state money to shore up infrastructure needs at federal facilities across Ohio.

State legislators earmarked the money as a kind of insurance marker in the event federal lawmakers push a round of base closures.

The nine-member Ohio Military Facilities Commission set a Feb. 15 deadline for installations to ask for the funds. The bases chosen would be notified by June.

The Dayton Development Coalition will explore what needs Wright-Patterson and Springfield Air National Guard Base have that could be paid for with state dollars, said Michael Gessel, Coalition vice president of federal programs.

The Department of Defense has not had a base realignment and closure round — commonly known by its acronym BRAC — since 2005, more than a decade since the announcement the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine would move to Wright-Patterson from Texas and bring hundreds of new jobs, among other changes.

“Theoretically, it is certainly possible that a critical infrastructure need would be satisfied through this grant program that could become a factor in a round of base closures,” he said. “We don’t know what the particular needs of the Defense Department will be during that BRAC round.”

Ohio Military Facilities Commission Chairman Mark D. Wagoner, a Toledo area lawyer, said the hope is the money will make a difference if the state faces the potential of the Pentagon closing military bases in Ohio.

“It’s a little bit like what final push finally gets the boulder over the hill,” the former state lawmaker said in an interview with this newspaper. “Every little bit helps, and this may make a difference. We don’t know yet.”

Ohio National Guard installations and NASA research centers in the state may also apply.

Wright-Patterson will ask for funding, but it’s too early to determine what it would cover, said Marie Vanover, a base spokeswoman. The request may include road repairs, traffic modifications and construction, she added.

The money can be applied to new buildings, renovations, security improvements, roads and energy conservation upgrades, among other things.

A state evaluation committee will score the requests based on a “military value” scale used in the 1990 BRAC round.

In recent years the Pentagon has asked Congress for the go-ahead to close excess bases but lawmakers, mindful of the benefits of a military installation in their home districts, have failed to agree.

The Defense Department says the Air Force and the Army will have nearly a third more space than either service branch needs by 2019. The Navy and Marine Corps will have 7 percent excess capacity by then, a Pentagon study has said.

Loren B. Thompson, a Virginia-based senior defense analyst and a defense industry consultant, indicated a BRAC with the incoming Trump administration might be a possibility as the White House looks to trim waste.

“President-elect Trump has signaled out Pentagon waste as a source of money for modernizing the military, and base closures could provide some significant savings,” Thompson said in a telephone interview. “However, that process is not likely to affect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”

More likely, it will hit Air National Guard bases in Ohio and the Defense Finance Accounting Service near Columbus, Thompson said.

“Base closures will be going after the fat rather than the muscle, so it will not be doing anything significant to reduce the abilities of Wright-Patt,” he said.

Ohio investment in military installations may bring a return dividend, he said.

“A small amount of local money can go a long way in making a base look more valuable,” he said.

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