By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Buses shuttled citizens to and from the Base Realignment and Closure regional hearing held Wednesday in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Business owners closed their doors to join base backers in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Red T-shirts labeled “America Needs Eielson,” were donned by area residents, who scooped up bottles of water offered by volunteers and took their seats to hear retired generals, senators, and state delegates make a case for Eielson Air Force Base.
If the Pentagon’s plans to realign the base are accepted by the BRAC Commission, the Fairbanks North Star Borough will lose an estimated 8.6 percent of its jobs.
But the community knows little more now about the fate of its base and its economy than it did before the commissioners arrived, said Save Eielson Committee member Nava Peterson.
“We’re still kind of anxiously waiting. We won’t know anything until September,” Peterson said.
BRAC commissioners will hand President Bush their recommended closure list by the second Thursday of September.
“The BRAC commissioners didn’t say anything — they were there just to listen,” said Peterson who nevertheless left the 2 1/2 hour hearing with a “good feeling” about the future of Eielson, which backers argued is strategically located for military missions, its most notable target North Korea.
Fairbanks was the site of the first of 15 regional BRAC hearings. Commissioners will visit Clovis on Friday. Backers of Cannon Air Force Base are planning a reception similar to the one in Fairbanks, hoping to convince at least five of the nine commissioners to remove the base from the closure list.
But while the hearing generates an opportunity for commissioners to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of Cannon, they are not expected to reveal the fate of any targeted military installations until mid-August at the earliest.
“The commissioners are very cordial,” said Rick Mayfield, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance who, in lieu of a canceled hearing in Salt Lake City, met with BRAC commissioners on June 6 to discuss Hill Air Force Base.
Hill, which is 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, is slated to undergo minimal changes.
“Our visit was borderline — they didn’t have to visit, but they did. There were several times that we asked for some kind of indication,” about the final BRAC outcome, said Mayfield, “but they always said those questions were premature.”