June 6, 2012 10:54:38 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Two decades ago, Columbus Air Force Base was threatened with Base Realignment and Closure, a process by which the United States Department of Defense strategically divests itself of military bases and reassigns personnel as a cost-saving measure.
The community rallied together then and managed to save the base, and that may be necessary once again, Mississippi Senate Pro Tem Terry Brown told members of the Columbus Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon.
Another round of BRAC is expected to take place next year and again in 2015, following a request by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the 2013 defense budget.
Of the state's nine military bases, CAFB is the second most vulnerable, Brown said. The Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg is most vulnerable, and Meridian Naval Air Station ranks third.
Gov. Phil Bryant re-established the Mississippi Military Communities Council in March to help promote and protect the state's military interests, appointing to the council retired Col. Nick Ardillo, former executive director of Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
Ardillo, who was present for Tuesday's Rotary meeting, said 50 percent of the defense budget cuts are being levied against the U.S. Air Force, which will purchase fewer aircraft next year than it has since 1916.
"We bought more in the midst of the Depression than we will next year," Ardillo said.
Brown encouraged community members to begin preparations now to improve infrastructure to show support and commitment to the base in a bid to keep it in Columbus.
"We can't afford to lose Columbus Air Force Base," Brown said. "It would just destroy this place around here, the way we know it, and I would hate to see that."
Brown also updated Rotarians on measures that recently came before the state Legislature, particularly lawmakers' failure to pass a bond bill. The belt-tightening will affect the state's colleges and universities, which rely upon bonds for infrastructure improvements, repairs and renovation.
He said though constituents of Mississippi University for Women may not agree, he believes it won't hurt the college -- or the state -- to take a hiatus on borrowing money.
"Just because you can borrow it, you don't need to sometimes," Brown said.
Current construction projects at The W will not be affected, Brown said, assuring Rotarians that future projects are not in danger.
"I promise you, the construction going on at MUW right now, this time in one year there'll still be construction going on. There's enough bonds out there that can be issued to keep construction going."
MUW is currently working its way through $23 million in construction and renovation projects as part of the college's 20-year master plan.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.