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US Air Force: We need $5 billion to fix weather-damaged bases

Hurricane Michael ripped through Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and the surrounding area leaving severe damage through its path. (Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno/U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force says it needs nearly $5 billion over the next three years to rebuild bases in Florida and Nebraska severely damaged by weather in the past six months.

If it does not receive $1.2 billion of those funds by June for repairs at Tyndall Air Force Base and Offutt Air Force Base, service officials warned they would be forced to cut projects at bases in 18 states (here’s the list) and cancel 18,000 pilot training hours.

“We desperately need the supplemental funding to recover from the natural disasters that hammered Tyndall and Offutt,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Wednesday at Heritage Foundation event in Washington. “There are other decisions we’ll have to make if we don’t [have supplemental funding] by May or June. These are just the first decisions that we had to make yesterday…61 projects in 18 states are not going to happen because we have not gotten a disaster supplemental for Tyndall.”

Recovery efforts at Tyndall, leveled by Hurricane Michael in October, have so far been funded through the service’s operations and maintenance account. But an Air Force document about the emergency request, released Wednesday, says that money is running out.

The document says that if the emergency funding does not arrive by May 1, all new recovery work at Tyndall will stop, which “delays the return of full base operations, severely impairs flight operations and forces personnel to continue to work in degraded facilities.” As well, aircraft repair funding would be cut, which would grounding of five bomber aircraft as soon as September. It would also delay maintenance of E-3 AWACS radar planes.

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At Offutt, a delay to the requested funding would restrict recovery efforts to “immediate health and safety needs” at the base, which is home to the service’s bespoke spy planes and airborne nuclear command centers, the document said. Other “facilities assessment and mitigation efforts” would be put on hold, “increasing damage from mold and water.”

The ultimatum comes as President Trump, through a controversial emergency declaration, is preparing to raid $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s military construction budget to extend barriers along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Pentagon has not said which projects it will cut for the border extensions. Instead, it released a list of projects that have had money appropriated by Congress, but not yet spent. Two projects are at the bases singled out by the Air Force Wednesday: a $17 million fire station at Tyndall and a $9.5 million parking lot for U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt.

Hurricane Michael destroyed most of Tyndall when it hit the Florida Panhandle base in October. Earlier this month, Offutt was partially indundated by Missouri River floodwaters that damaged nearly 80 buildings.

Caught by surprise

The damage to both bases appears to have caught the military by surprise. The Pentagon’s widely criticized climate-impact report for 2019 listed Offutt as a base with climate-related vulnerabilities, but only for drought, and said there was no current or potential risk of recurrent flooding. While the report mentioned Tyndall in its text, the base did not appear in the list of at-risk facilities.

An F-22 Raptor training unit has already been moved from Tyndall to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The Air Force is flying F-16 drones from Tyndall and is planning to move F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and MQ-9 Reaper drones to the base beginning in 2023.

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Two weeks after the storm Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration was committed to rebuilding the base. Advocates for the base and Air Force officials say Tyndall, despite its location in a storm-prone region, is critical because of its proximity to vast pilot training ranges over the Gulf of Mexico.

Paulina Glass contributed to this report.

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© 2018 By National Journal Group, Inc. 

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.