AUGUSTA – The one Department of Defense recommendation to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that would benefit Maine is now under fire from states that would lose personnel and aircraft to the Bangor Air National Guard base.

Gov. John Baldacci said Monday the state will be working with its congressional delegation to file written arguments in support of the recommendation.

“Not only are we fighting against the proposals to decrease the bases we have, we have to fight for the ones that are supposed to gain,” he said.

In its recommendations, the Defense Department proposed that the Bangor Guard base would see an increase of 45 military personnel and the creation of 195 civilian jobs as part of a realignment of Air Force refueling operations.

Refueling aircraft would be transferred from Air Force Guard bases in Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Meridian, Miss., to Bangor. The military staff and civilian workers associated with those aircraft will go to Bangor under the proposal before the BRAC Commission.

“Bangor is strategically located, they have done a great job and won awards for what they do,” Baldacci said. “It’s a good decision, in the national interest.”

Arguing for N.Y. base

But others argue their facilities are also strategically located and would be better locations for Air National Guard’s refueling aircraft. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told a BRAC public hearing in Buffalo, N.Y., last month that the Niagara Falls base has strengths not found at the other bases.

“Niagara also provides irreplaceable training and operational capability that would be lost under the recommendation,” he said. “Unlike the proposed receiver sites in Arkansas and Maine, Niagara is not encumbered by infrastructure, weather and space restraints.”

Niagara, which is recommended for closing, would lose airlift aircraft to a base in Arkansas and air refueling planes to Bangor. Richard Dewitt, a member of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, argued that the Defense Department was wrong in its recommendation, pointing to the comparative military value rankings of Niagara and Bangor.

“Niagara also had a higher KC 135 military capability index than Bangor,” he said, “while Bangor, six months ago studied for closure, is now going to gain eight tankers from Niagara and four from another source.”

In its recommendation, the Defense Department praised Bangor’s 101st Air Refueling Wing for its role in the Northeast Tanker Task Force, which has provided support to the “air bridge” to Europe and the Mideast.

“Bangor was increased from eight to 12 aircraft because of its critical role in the Northeast Tanker Task Force,” the report stated, “as well as its participation in the trans-Atlantic air bridge.”

240 jobs possible

Under the recommendation, another 12 aircraft would be added to the base. Baldacci said the 240 new military and civilian jobs would be a significant boost to the area economy. More important, he said, is the mission the base plays in homeland security.

“It was the planes from there that provided the support over New York (City) after 9/11,” he said. “They have done a wonderful job out of there supporting homeland security.”

Baldacci said he was not surprised that other states would seek to defend their bases from closure or downsizing, as Maine is doing in the case of the recommendations to close the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Defense Accounting Center in Limestone and to downsize Brunswick Naval Air Station.

“We will be working with the congressional delegation to provide additional support backing up the recommendation,” he said, “We will have a package of information ready for the commission by the end of the week.”

BRAC’s final public hearings are this week. The commission will then ask for more information about proposals they may be considering, including closing and realigning bases not on the list.

“That’s the key we will be looking for,” Baldacci said, “that will give us an indication of where they are going.”

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