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Air Force rejects plan to save Guard jobs; Cites 'adverse impacts' of governors' proposal

The Air Force has rejected a plan that would have provided a new mission and saved most of the proposed job cuts for a National Guard unit at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

The proposal, from the Council of Governors, was an alternative to the Department of Defense's budget plan that would eliminate 845 jobs at the base by stripping the mission of the 107th Airlift Wing, which is stationed at the base.

The issue came up Friday morning at Niagara Falls International Airport during a visit by Michael Huerta, the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The proposed alternative from the Council of Governors "would increase costs and produce adverse impacts to the Air Force's risk-balanced force structure and combat power," according to an Air Force memo to congressional staffers obtained by The Buffalo News.

While the Air Force is looking to trim expenses, the Council of Governors' proposal would actually increase a budgetary shortfall by between $528 million and $805 million nationwide, according an internal Air Force evaluation described in the memo.

The proposal also did not meet any of five criteria the Air Force established, but the Department of Defense "remains open to further discussion," the memo states.

The Air Force's rejection of the governors' proposal does not mean the cuts will definitely happen, as supporters said today other options remain for staving off many of the job losses.

"That is not the only path" that's being pursued to limit losses at the base, Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, said Friday.

"This is a bump in the road," said John A. Cooper Sr, vice chairman of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, an organization whose mission has been to advocate for continued base operations.

Cooper said Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has been assigned to handle ongoing talks with the Council of Governors, a bipartisan group of 10 governors appointed by President Obama.

The Council of Governors' proposal called for the mission of the 107th Airlift Wing to switch from cargo transportation to one involving spy planes.

The Air Force's budget plan, which disproportionally cuts National Guard units, has raised concerns among states about how the proposed cuts would affect the state-based units, which assist in emergency response, disaster recovery and foreign military missions.

Hochul and Cooper made their comments during a visit by Huerta, who came to meet with local officials and tour the airport, which shares runways with the military personnel on site.

Hochul invited Huerta to tour the airport, as well as participate in a morning round-table discussion with regional elected leaders, economic development officials and representatives of labor and agriculture.

The FAA last week announced it was releasing $11.7 million to repair the main runway at the facility, which is also used for the adjoining Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Hochul said she saw the visit as an opportunity to showcase the airport to Huerta.

"I also thought it was important that he come and have a chance to listen to the many people who benefit from this airport and its tremendous potential," Hochul said.

The number of passengers using the airport has grown from about 1,000 in 2009 to about 200,000 last year, officials said.

Huerta said the grant announced last week is the first grant awarded by the agency this year.

He also acknowledged the dramatic increase in passenger service at the Falls airport, noting the importance of the new terminal that was built.

"And that's really made a difference, and fliers are really taking advantage of what we have there," Huerta said.

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.