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Editorial: Upgrading Niagara Falls air base means protecting jobs and the nation

It is not enough to strengthen the mission of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. The station itself should be upgraded.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a staunch advocate and yearslong supporter of the air base, understands the imperative and, to the long-term benefit of Western New York, is acting on it.

Schumer is starting with the front gate. He says it is “a security risk.” Strengthening the entrance to the base tops his list of $50 million in improvements. The money represents a drop in the $100 billion bucket, given the increase in future defense spending sought by President Trump and approved by Congress.

The senator is absolutely correct about the dangers of a weak front entrance to the air base. Just as strengthening the front door to one’s home is important in safeguarding loved ones. In this case, the potential damage that could be inflicted extends beyond the safety of staff to national security.

Just looking at the image of the entrance tells the story. As the senator said, “the space between the guard station and the barrier is too short.” Security experts, he added, would confirm that it is a sign of vulnerability. Those with nefarious intent would notice it, too.

That concern is real. Military bases are not immune to attack. Just as shootings have become all too common in places that were once seen as “safe” – schools, churches, malls, restaurants and everywhere else that is not an official battlefield – military complexes have also been targeted. Preventative measures are necessary to reduce the risk.

Schumer also wants other upgrades worth backing. The air base needs a longer runway, for starters. As an example, the KC-135 tanker planes now assigned to the base must back up and turn around to get off the runway. That represents precious wasted time, especially in an emergency. The installation also requires a better communications building, a munitions storage building and other improvements to aging facilities.

Schumer has also zeroed in on improvements needed at the medical center which he considers outdated. Same for a civil engineering building that has not been changed since the 1950s. The current stormwater management “could be more environmentally friendly,” according to the senator’s list.

Schumer has been a strong advocate for the air base over the years, having helped return the KC-135 tanker fleet after the departure of the C-130 mission. He is not letting up in doing all that he can to protect 2,600 jobs along with the nation’s legitimate security needs.

The senior senator believes that there is a chance to secure “new and additional federal investments” the region’s air reserve station. Getting it done will go a long way toward strengthening the base and its future.

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