You may have read recently about an item that will be on this fall’s ballot that asks Spokane County voters to approve a levy that would allow the County to buy land in the Accident Potential Zone (APZ) at the end of the runway at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Currently, seven mobile home parks with around 190 units populate the land. That’s too many people living in an area that has a higher potential for airplane crashes. The Air Force frowns at encroachment (overcrowding near the base) like this.
Here’s why this levy should be supported: To protect the base from encroachment threats. With a round of base closures expected in the next two or three years due to federal budget cuts, the community must do all it can to keep our base open and protect the nearly 6,000 military and civilian jobs it supports and its more than 8,000 residents . The annual economic impact of the military in the region is approximately $1.7 billion, largely fueled by Fairchild Air Force Base (source: Randy Barcus, former Chief Economist at Avista, January, 2012).
Our PTAC office reports that in the 2012-2013 federal fiscal year, Spokane County companies were awarded a combined 118 prime contracts worth $11.9 million for work at Fairchild Air Force Base. During that same year, sub-contractors acquired three contracts worth a total of about $514,000. All contracts combined supported 128.28 total jobs.
As you can see, the impact the base has on the community and area businesses is immense. That’s why we must protect it from encroachment threats.
Encroachment was part of the criteria the Air Force used to determine which base would receive the new KC-46A tankers. Earlier this year, the Air Force announced that McConnell Air Force Base would be the first base to house the new tankers. Fairchild was among the final four bases being considered, and received zero points under the encroachment portion of the criteria due to the housing in the APZ.
That signaled to us and other community leaders that something needed to be done (GSI and others have in fact been working to solve this problem for a number of years). If the Air Force cited the housing in the APZ as a mark against the base in the tanker criteria, how will it view it in a base closure process review?
The community also needs to protect the residents currently living in the APZ. They currently live in a location the Department of Defense categorizes as “incompatible use” for citizens. The potential for a plane crash is too great of a risk to leave them there. Spokane County and several organizations are developing a respectful relocation plan for residents.
The County has budgeted about $18 million for this project – a minimal amount compared to the military’s aforementioned $1.7 billion annual economic impact. The $18 million budget includes costs to acquire the land and demolition, relocation and other miscellaneous costs. The state has already granted the County $2.7 million to go toward acquiring Solar World Estates, a development currently on the same site as the mobile home parks.
The levy is 6.5 cents per $1,000 of your property value. This means you’d pay $6.50 if your home or commercial property is valued at $100,000.
Eliminating encroachment threats is a community issue. Air Force bases and the Department of Defense rely on the surrounding communities to support their bases and protect them from encroachment. The Spokane Chamber of Commerce – now GSI – has worked to protect the base for more than 70 years, including the last ten years through our Forward Fairchild Committee.
The hope is these residents can move into new, better housing, and Fairchild can remain open for many years to come.