Based on the recent headline in The News about the impact on the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station of 70 industrial wind turbines over 600 feet tall along Lake Ontario, it would appear that the issue was settled in favor of the turbines. However, the statements placed in the context of the long-term viability of the air base demand another conclusion.
Since the mid 1990s, there have been two Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commissions. In both cases, the air base was listed for closure. Through intensive lobbying, those decisions were reversed.
Congress is likely to call for another BRAC in the next few years. In order to prepare and position the air base for that, Niagara County officials conducted, with the help of one of the leading military affairs consulting firms, a “future missions study.” The purpose of this study was to identify new missions for the air base to increase its military value and avoid a third closure recommendation.
The study recommended securing two major missions – refueling and remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs). With the announcement that the air base would be home to KC-135 tankers, the first objective has been achieved. The second mission is only partially secured. Currently, RPAs are flown from the Niagara Falls base but hangared at other bases. The goal is to secure a “landing and recovery element” mission that would actually see the RPAs hangared at the air base.
When asked if the higher-flying refueling mission made the wind turbine project impact on base operations a “nonissue,” a base official replied, “At this time, with the new mission, yes.” The base official also declared that the RPA mission would be unaffected because “the drones themselves are not expected to be housed at the air base.”
Problems abound with both statements. The first statement, “At this time, with this new mission,” is not a categorical statement that future missions, especially those involving lower-level flights, would not be negatively impacted. The second statement, “the drones are not expected to be housed at the air base,” directly contradicts the major goal of securing the landing and recovery element mission for Niagara Falls.
Base missions are never static – the air base has been home to fighters, airlift and refueling missions. Remotely piloted aircraft will play a significant role in the military’s force structure. Are we really willing to sacrifice low-flying missions involving RPAs at a time when the next BRAC may place a high priority on this criterion when evaluating the future of bases? Why would we give up the encroachment-free zone that currently exists around the air base when we are actively pursuing a landing and recovery element mission and looking toward a future military reliant on RPAs?
The future of the Niagara Falls air base is far too important to start restricting its adaptability to accept new technology and missions by allowing this industrial wind turbine encroachment into the military operating area.
Pam Atwater is president of Save Ontario Shores (SOS).
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