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CONGRESSMAN MIKE COFFMAN: Preserving Buckley AFB and its mission by preserving Aurora’s environment

August 30, 2017

I always say that every dollar wasted by the Department of Defense (DoD) is a dollar not spent defending this country. This is why I support closing excess military bases.

The U.S. Air Force currently has more bases than it needs. Maintaining facilities that are not necessary is a waste of taxpayer dollars and I give the U.S. Air Force credit for seeking authorization from Congress to close down bases that it considers “excess capacity.”

The process for selecting bases to close is through a “Base Realignment and Closure Commission” (BRAC). A BRAC commission is set up by DoD as a panel of outside experts, who review all the bases and ultimately recommend a list of bases to close. Once the list is made, it cannot be amended and its passage is ultimately decided on an up or down vote in Congress. In BRAC rounds completed in the 1990s, Aurora lost both Lowry Air Force Base and Fitzsimons Army Medical Center.

For Air Force bases one BRAC criteria is whether or not the base has an active runway. As bases that were originally built away from population centers contend with population growth they come under pressure by developers who build residences right up to the fence line of an Air Force base. Development too close to the base not only raises the prospects for safety concerns, but it also erodes community support for the base with increased complaints about aviation noise.

Development around Lowry Air Force Base ultimately led to the closure of its runway and then to the BRAC decision to close the base. Given this history I’ve been working with the Air Force, our state, county, and local government leaders to ensure that the ongoing growth and development in Aurora does not create similar problems for Buckley AFB. Fortunately a solution has emerged that not only protects the base’s flying mission but also provides for more open space that protects the environment and encourages outdoor recreational activities.

The solution is called the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI), program. This is a DoD program to prevent commercial and residential development from encroaching on military bases. To date, the REPI program has provided $12 million with matching funds from Great Outdoors Colorado, the Colorado General Assembly, Arapahoe County and the City of Aurora.

Together, we are in the process of purchasing over 1,000 acres of additional undeveloped land around the base. Most of these lands will be designated as permanent open space located under the most common flight patterns for aircraft taking off and landing at Buckley. This new open space, with hiking and bike trails will provide a significant additional amenities for those who live in the Denver metropolitan region while also helping to preserve the operational flying mission for the base which is the largest employer in the City of Aurora with an annual economic impact of about $1 billion.

Expanding the buffer zone will also put the base in a better position to compete for the basing of the F-35 fighter that is replacing the aging F-16 fighters currently based at Buckley. The F-35 has a somewhat larger noise signature than the F-16 so the more open space there is to act as a buffer the better.

Under current projections, there will not be enough F-35’s to replace all of the National Guard F-16’s. It is also unlikely that those state National Guard organizations that currently have F-16’s but do not get the F-35 will get another flying mission. Without the F-16’s or a replacement for them the Air Force almost certainly will deactivate the runway making the base more vulnerable to closure under the next BRAC.

I look forward to continuing to work with the leadership at Buckley AFB, with the U.S. Air Force, and with all of my partners in state and local level to make sure that we “BRAC-proof” Buckley AFB so that it continues as a vital element in the defense of our nation as well as an economic engine for our community.

U.S. Representative Mike Coffman is a Republican and serves as the Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.