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Niagara Falls base project may not be cut to pay for border wall

If the Pentagon meets its schedule for awarding a construction contract, a planned $14 million fitness and training center at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is not among the projects that could be cut if President Trump transfers money from scheduled military construction to a planned wall on the Mexican border.

But if the July target for awarding the project isn't met, and if Trump goes ahead with his method of paying for the wall, the Niagara Falls project might lose its funding after all.

A list of projects, issued by the Pentagon this week, was publicized Wednesday by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, whose district includes the air base.

The list includes more than 400 projects already approved, totaling almost $6.8 billion, whose construction contracts had not been awarded as of Dec. 31. The report says that figure is more than the amount needed to build the wall.

But the document's introduction says that just because a project is on the list, that doesn't guarantee its funding will be canceled if the Pentagon needs to find money for the wall.

The Pentagon document says that if the Defense Department's budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 is passed on time, no projects will be cut to pay for the wall.

Otherwise, the document says, only projects whose construction contracts are to be awarded after Sept. 30 are at risk.

Dems, Reed decry Trump emergency; Collins fears loss of Niagara base funds

Below the Niagara Falls project, which is listed on the last page of the report, is the date July 2019, which is the scheduled contract award date.

"The July 2019 date is a target," Higgins spokeswoman Theresa Kennedy said. "Should the project timeline at the Niagara Falls base change or be delayed by just a couple months, which is all too common in government contracting, it would fit squarely in the criteria set forth."

Kennedy noted that the Pentagon's criteria for where to find the wall money "are self-imposed."

The fitness center is important for the members of the units at the Niagara Falls base – the 107th Attack Wing of the New York Air National Guard and the 914th Air Refueling Wing of the Air Force Reserve – to be in condition to carry out their missions, said John A. Cooper Sr., chairman of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, a civilian group which supports the base and lobbies on its behalf.

"It's not a gym just for the fun of having a gym," Cooper said. "It is a place for airmen to train and remain qualified."

Cooper said the new center would be built next to the existing one, which would be demolished and replaced with a parking lot. The $14 million price tag includes all that work, Cooper said.

"The one we have at the present time doesn't meet Air Force regulations. It's old," Cooper said. He said he thought the current center might have been erected in the 1950s.

Last month, Trump declared a national emergency in order to access money for the wall he promised to build during his 2016 campaign. He also promised that Mexico would pay for it, which the Mexican government has refused to do.

The House and Senate both voted to block Trump's emergency declaration. Trump vetoed the bill Friday. Attempts to override his veto are expected next week.

"United States military members here at home and across the globe will take a huge hit if the president’s emergency declaration proceeds," Higgins said in the news release. "In Western New York we are at risk of losing a project designed to support military readiness and lose the jobs and economic benefits that come with a major construction investment in our community. The president’s unnecessary declaration represents an overt overreach of power, and the outstanding men and women who dedicate themselves to service will be left paying the price."

"I will aggressively fight to protect the vital projects at all of New York’s military-related facilities – including the training center at Niagara Falls Air Base – from being raided to pay for an ineffective and expensive project that has already been rejected by Congress," Sen. Charles E. Schumer said. "Defense spending is for national defense, not made-up national emergencies."

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