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Air Force responds to housing study regarding Eielson F-16s move

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Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012 12:15 am | Updated: 12:10 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — A study that found there is little available housing in the Anchorage area will not be enough, or at least not on its own, to sway the Air Force from transferring Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 squadron to the Anchorage area.

The study, which suggests possible complications and expenses from moving Eielson airmen to Anchorage, was lauded this week by Alaska’s congressional delegation as an example of a serious flaw in the assertion by Air Force officials that they can save $227 million over five years by moving the unit out of the Interior.

The Air Force made it clear Thursday that it would take more than a single report to make the Air Force reassess its plans.

“The secretary of the Air Force will consider multiple data sources such as the housing market analysis, environmental impact statement, costs, military operational requirements and congressional/community inputs before he makes a final decision on relocating the F-16s from Eielson AFB to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson,” said Maj. Alysia Hayes, a spokeswoman for Pacific Air Forces, based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

“If the decision is made to continue with the move, then the Air Force will explore all options to ensure the arriving airmen can find safe and affordable housing.”

In February, the Air Force proposed moving Eielson’s F-16 squadron, and with it about half of Eielson’s 3,100 military and civilian jobs, as a way to cut costs. In May, the Air Force agreed to put the move on hold for one year. It is conducting several reports related to the proposed transfer, including the housing report and an upcoming environmental impact statement.

The 48-page housing report, prepared by contractor Science Applications International Corporation, concludes Anchorage has a vacancy rate of about 2.6 percent, which could make finding rental housing difficult for lower-paid airmen and civilians who are more likely to rent than to buy homes.

Even if the military had not agreed to a voluntary moratorium on the F-16 move, congressional action affects what can be done with the F-16s at Eielson for the rest of this fiscal year.

In their proposed military appropriations bills this year, both the Senate and the House of Representatives inserted language barring the Air Force from spending money to move the F-16s or make dozens of cost cutting-changes known as “force structure adjustments” in 33 states unless a committee gives the service the authority or until after a national commission makes recommendations to Congress about the future shape of the military.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who along with the rest of Alaska’s delegation advocated for this restriction in the military budget, argues the Air Force’s environmental impact study violates Congress’ intention because the environmental impact study is one of the steps the Air Force would need to take before moving the F-16s. In an interview with the News-Miner on Thursday she said she plans to take this issue up in her next meeting with military leaders.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.

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