Wright-Patterson Air Force Base lost out on a plea for millions of dollars in state funding for four projects at the sprawling installation.
The Ohio Military Facilities Commission picked two Ohio Air National Guard projects to split $5 million state lawmakers set aside nearly two years ago to bolster Ohio installation needs as talk of another round of base closures looms in Washington.
Another large federal installation in Ohio, NASA Glenn Research Center near Cleveland, also was shut out on a wish list of infrastructure projects.
The panel chose to spend $2.5 million to help relocate a portion of a taxiway at Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base and $2.5 million to help build a combined deployment processing and a physical fitness center at Toledo Air National Guard Base.
One Miami Valley state lawmaker said he would not endorse future funding for the initiative if Wright-Patterson was not going to obtain state dollars.
‘Not for the program anymore’
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., said state funding was meant to bolster federal installations that may face closure or loss of jobs, as could happen under a military Base Realignment and Closure process, often referred to by its acronym, BRAC.
National Guard bases are important, Antani said, but don’t face the same closure threats as federal installations.
“If we’re not going to fund Wright-Patterson, I’m not for the program anymore,” he said. “It’s got to be done in a way that staves off Ohio from losing missions in a BRAC. If it’s just going to go to National Guard bases, that was not the purpose of the program.”
RELATED: Wright-Patterson to seek state funds
Wright-Patterson was the largest installation to ask for state dollars. With more than 27,000 military service members and civilian employees, the base ranks as the largest single-site employer in Ohio.
State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, said he was disappointed in the outcome.
“My reaction is I’m disappointed that the largest single-site employer got shut out basically as well as somebody as strategically important as NASA Glenn,” said Perales, a former Air Force civil engineer and retired military officer at Wright-Patterson.
While he did not contest the process or its fairness, he said the criteria of future requests of military and federal installations may need to be “tweaked.”
“Clearly, above all, is the strategic national defense value that all these installations bring to our country and to the warfighter,” he said. “Beyond any other criteria, that’s got to be number one.”
Wright-Patterson, he noted, has a more than $4 billion estimated regional economic impact.
Perales is chairman of a state task force to prepare Ohio for the possibility of a BRAC round. The Pentagon has said the Air Force and the Army will have nearly a third more space than needed by 2019.
Among the list of projects, Wright-Patterson asked for: $2.9 million to replace eight roofs; $1.8 million to install barriers at a security gate entrance off National Road; $1.8 million to repair eight roads, parking lots and airfield roads; and $500,000 for runway improvements.
Toledo is home to the 180th Fighter Wing, which flies the F-16 fighter jet, and Mansfield is home to the 179th Airlift Wing, which flies the C-130 cargo plane.
‘Transparent and open’
Multiple attempts were made to contact Mark D. Wagoner Jr., a Toledo area lawyer who is the commission chairman and a former state lawmaker, for comment.
However, in a statement released through an Ohio National Guard spokeswoman, Wagoner said the commission went through a “transparent and open competitive process” that followed its “statutory mandate.”
Applications were judged on merit and project needs and ranked by third-party evaluators who consulted with military advisers, the statement said.
“Going forward, the Commission plans to prepare some recommendations on how the statutory framework might be amended to allow for more flexibility for how any possible future monies might be allocated,” the statement said.
The commission’s nine members, at least five of whom were former high-ranking Ohio National Guard leaders, were unanimous in their decision, officials said. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the House and the Senate each appointed three commission members. The National Guard also provides administrative support to the commission.
Maurice McDonald, Dayton Development Coalition executive vice president of aerospace and defense, said he did not believe the rejection of Wright-Patterson requests would be a negative if the Pentagon calls for a new round of base closures. He said Wright-Patterson has a “very strong military value” across the Department of Defense and the Air Force.
“We were hopeful that Wright-Patt would potentially be one of the selected projects,” he said. “However, we think that the state has made great strides in the right direction in support of the military infrastructure across the state of Ohio and that Wright-Patterson, and hopefully as well as Springfield Air National Guard Base, will have opportunities for funding down the road if funding is continued by the state.”
Springfield did not apply for funding in this round.
Perales said he has put in a budget request for another $5 million, but it’s not assured it will win lawmakers’ endorsement.
Wright-Patterson projects that failed to land state dollars would compete for Air Force funding in fiscal years 2018-2021, according to base spokeswoman Marie Vanover.
Vanover said in an email Wright-Patterson was “very appreciative” of state efforts to fund military infrastructure needs in Ohio, and expected to apply in the future.
Messages seeking comment also were left with the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, a frequent advocate for Wright-Patterson and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Chosen projects had applications with supporting documents that gave “much greater detail directly tying the infrastructure projects to military value” and base realignment closure commission guidelines, an OMFC document said.
Projects were scored on how the improvement might increase the military value of the facility in the event of a future round of base closures; offering local, state or federal matching dollars; and a project cost estimate and deadline to completion.
Selections must be OK’d by the Ohio General Assembly Controlling Board. Regional, state and federal agencies asked for a total of $13.3 million to fund 10 projects.