March 19, 2014 9:50:53 AM
It's been nearly a decade since the latest round of military base realignment and closures (BRAC) resulted in the decommission of nine military bases in the U.S. Now, the Department of Defense is pushing for more base closures beginning in 2017.
Golden Triangle Regional Airport Executive Director Mike Hainsey said more community partnership with Columbus Air Force Base would show its vitality to the area and prevent the base from being included in a future round of shutdowns. Hainsey, for example, had training pilots use one of GTRA's runways while CAFB was having major runway repairs were completed at CAFB.
And the community-wide effort to keep potential BRAC measures from affecting the Golden Triangle began long ago, Hainsey said.
"Our community needs to, if it does happen, step up to it," Hainsey told Columbus Rotarians Tuesday. "The BRAC does not begin when the president announces that it's going to happen. Fighting the BRAC began when the last one ended. Improving the infrastructure, our community support and the things we're able to do at GTR, that all counts in the competition if BRAC comes."
While base closures make the nation's defense budgets more efficient with fewer military installations to maintain, the argument for keeping CAFB up and running far outweighs any for benefits that closing CAFB would produce, he said.
"Part of it's financial, but that's not all of it," Hainsey said. "National defense, patriotism. We're in the South. That's what we do."
At GTRA, Hainsey's primary focus is on construction, he said. There is a $3.43 million project ongoing that involves the repaving of GTRA's runways, $3.1 million of which is funded by a Federal Aviation Administration grant through the Airport Improvement Program.
"We've been very blessed," Hainsey said. "Over the last 10 years we've had $30 million in construction projects going on at the airport. Anything from new ramps to keeping things in good shape on our runway. We bought $3.5 million dollars worth of land that is now our part of the GTR Aerospace Park. Most of that funding comes from the FAA. A lot of it is state money from (Mississippi Department of Transportation)."
Part of the current project widens entrances and exits to the taxiways, something that has been a "limiting factor" for the airport to this point. It will allow GTR to take bigger airplanes. Right now the largest it receives are Boeing 757s, he said.
The project was supposed to be complete by now, Hainsey said, but a wet winter has delayed its progress. He said he expects the work to be done in the next three months.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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