In our opinion
The always seemingly endless war to save Fairchild Air Force Base – and the enormous economic impact it has in the region – has been waged with battles on many fronts and by many kinds of citizen soldiers over the years.
Soon, a new army, the taxpayers of Spokane County, will be asked to join the effort by their approval of a ballot measure Nov. 5 that would help fund the purchase of homes within the Accident Potential Zones.
These APZs are designated areas at each end of Fairchild’s runway that are considered most likely to be affected should one of the base’s tankers crash.
Spokane County Commissioners last Tuesday unanimously approved putting a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot that will raise some $18 million in the next nine years. That money would pay for removing homes and relocating residents inside these APZs.
Voters will be asked to approve levying a tax of 6.5-cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation of a home – $13 per year on a $200,000 home. Help from the rest of Spokane County is needed because most residents of the area south of U.S. Highway 2 are elderly and/or low income.
Various nonprofit agencies, government and businesses would team to provide housing across the county.
While there are no guarantees that clearing these areas will make Fairchild less likely to fall victim to future Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) action, doing what is necessary to eliminate potential casualties in the unlikely event of a crash, is a step in the right direction.
Because of these crowded APZs, Fairchild lost points in the competition to be home for the new generation of air refueling tankers and the Boeing-built KC-46A’s will be based at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan.
Airway Heights has already received $2.7 million from the state to begin the process that backers hope would provide points of a different kind should BRAC come knocking, hoping that the base’s 5,000 jobs and an estimated $427 million in annual economic impact is saved.
The properties in question are both mobile and stick-built homes. Mobile homes, most easily at least 60 years old, cannot be moved and would be demolished. Some stick-built structures could be moved.
Surveys show a good 80 percent of the residents want to get out of being someplace where a big jet, likely loaded with tons of flammable fuel, might crash. The moves have been touted as voluntary, but the more time lapses, the more pressure there is from local government to expedite the process.
Once vacated, Spokane County has the first option to purchase the land. They could sell it back to businesses who might locate there, because industrial use would not have the same risks.
We are, however, somewhat concerned when Spokane County engages in land deals because they have recently come out on the short end of the stick. Spokane County Raceway and that patch of land along McFarlane Road that the commissioners bought for $3.2 million and sold to Spokane International Airport for $1.75 million come to mind.
Despite those issues, the Cheney Free Press editorial board supports this measure and encourages a yes vote. Because $13 per year seems to be a small price to pay for any added security we can all provide to help keep Fairchild’s economic engine running.