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Saving Hill AFB

Published November 30, 2012 5:49 pm

Facility must prove its value
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If it is possible, set aside for now the delicious sight of Utah's Republican members of Congress arguing the necessity of federal spending to protect a local economy. Utahns of all political persuasions should, indeed, be pulling out every tool in the kit to save Hill Air Force Base.

But we should do it in a way that actually makes our elected officials something other than rank hypocrites. That is, all the arguments, plans and planned arguments should be about how the point of a continued, strengthened, even expanded, Hill AFB is not a favor to Utah, its congressmen or even its economy.

If Hill is to survive, it must be established to the satisfaction of Congress, the Pentagon brass and whatever Base Realignment and Closure structure is cooked up, that to do so, and to spend the money necessary to do so, amounts to a benefit to national security that is worth the money.

That money will become increasingly dear, even if President Obama and the Congress avoid the looming fiscal cliff. Ongoing budget deficits demand that all parts of the federal budget be subject to cuts, and defense can be no exception.

There are several things in Hill's favor. It lies near a large unpopulated area that provides space for the giant Utah Test and Training Range. And the Air Force has been successful in keeping residential development away from its noisy runways, an argument many other big bases cannot make.

Also, aviation-related businesses that form a symbiotic relationship with the Air Force have already taken root in the Falcon Hill National Aerospace Park, on land leased from the federal government.

Add to that the proposal from Sen. Orrin Hatch and others that the military reserve components now housed at Fort Douglas could move to Hill, and the land and buildings left behind be leased to the University of Utah. All of that provides a revenue stream for the government that would be a major factor in any cold-hearted fiscal calculation of which bases should be saved and which should be closed.

It isn't that the whole of northern Utah would go down the economic drain if Hill were to shrink, or be closed. The area survived the 1997 closure of the Army's Defense Depot Ogden, and much of the land it left behind has been transformed into the private-sector, taxpaying Business Depot Ogden.

Those who care about the health of the region should be planning, if quietly, a similar course of action should Hill's mission be reduced or ended.

In the meantime, make the national security case for Hill. There is no reason why the taxpayers across America should continue to keep it open otherwise.