The two senators introduced legislation Feb. 8 that would bar the Air Force from executing the move, which Begich called an “end-run” around the formal BRAC process.
“A decision to relocate the F-16s from Eielson was already rejected in 2005 … recognizing Eielson has the best airspace and range complexes, and the estimated cost savings were inaccurate,” Begich said. “Nothing has changed since 2005. Eielson Air Force Base is critical to the defense of the United States.”
The latest proposal to move the F-16s isn’t taking place under a BRAC process, however, removing the ability for Fairbanks to appeal the action to the commission.
A Site Activation Task Force, or SATAF, is currently working to implement the move. The mayors of Fairbanks, North Pole and the borough told McLeod a more appropriate process would be a Site Survey Team that would determine whether the move could or should be done, not how.
McLeod assured community leaders at the Anchorage meeting that the SATAF process, while geared toward implementing the move, would allow for their concerns to be heard.
“The physics of the SATAF process is we gather information, identify shortfalls, we seek to mitigate shortfalls, and when you can’t, you identify those issues going forward to work on to implement,” McLeod said after the meeting. “The process lends itself, maybe not naturally, but can lend itself to addressing all those concerns. I’m hopeful that it will.”
Maintaining the capability of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex was foremost in the comments from community leaders, and Anchorage Mayor Sullivan noted during the meeting that his takeaway from McLeod’s statements was that the Air Force must prove the F-16 move both maintains the mission while achieving the projected cost savings, and that JBER can absorb the forces and personnel from Eielson.
The mayors from Fairbanks-North Star Borough pointed to potentially devastating impacts on their communities and to the morale of the families who are moved to JBER and those left behind.
There are as many as 1,063 children associated with the F-16 move, which could force schools on Eielson to close due to low enrollment and send the remaining children to North Pole 20 miles away.
Nor will it be easy to Anchorage school districts to absorb that many children, not to mention the tight housing and rental markets around JBER and in Eagle River, where many personnel live.
McLeod was informed at the Anchorage meeting that the city as a 1 percent to 2 percent vacancy rate on rentals, which could force relocated personnel from Eielson to live as far as Wasilla with the long commute and additional cost from gas expenses.
Further, Anchorage has an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, and 300 or so military spouses seeking jobs would represent a substantial increase to the labor pool.
Then there is the Fairbanks housing market, and the letter from the borough mayors told McLeod that putting 100 or more homes up for sale would drive down prices and decimate the investments of those who can’t sell their home and the value of those who remain.
“These families will lose money and possibly force them into bankruptcy, which will result in the loss of security clearances that will jeopardize or even end many excellent military careers,” the letter from the Fairbanks-North Star Borough stated.
Under a BRAC process, financial assistance may be provided to both communities who lose personnel and to the servicemen and women for relocation expenses that can include the government purchasing a home if it cannot be sold.
McLeod noted the difference between the current proposed move of the F-16s to a BRAC move in that relocation expenses or financial support are not currently provided, and that legislation would be required to do so.