BRAC-ish waters

South Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 2005  | July 2005 issue

It was a list no one wanted to be on. In a May announcement, the Pentagon pegged Ellsworth Air Force Base, located outside Rapid City, as one of the 33 major military bases recommended for closure.

Ellsworth employs 3,800 workers—second largest in the entire state behind only the state government. Ellsworth opened in the early 1940s and is used exclusively as a B1-B bomber base, a narrow focus that some blame for its proposed closure. If the closure goes through, bombers now stationed at Ellsworth—home to almost half of the military's 900-plus B1-Bs—would be moved to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

The matter is not immediate, nor even final. With the official public recommendation by the Defense Department, the matter now goes to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), which will hold hearings to gain further input and investigate the rationale for final closure recommendations slated for September. The Associated Press reported that the commission would be visiting Ellsworth and holding hearings in Rapid City on June 21 (after fedgazette reporting deadlines).

This is not the first time Ellsworth has been on a base-closing list, but the first time was something of a typo. Back in 1995, the New York Times reported that Ellsworth was on the short list of base closings being prepared at the time. That was later found to be wrong—the result of an outdated source—and the Times retracted its story.

Still, it was enough to scare the base and entire state into action. According to Associated Press reports, the base has spent about $2 million since 1995, including about $800,000 from state and local government, to market its utility to the Defense Department, but to no immediate avail.

After BRAC reviews all closure recommendations by the Pentagon, the matter goes to Congress and the president for approval. Though Pentagon recommendations tend to be followed pretty closely by BRAC, it's not unheard of for bases to be added to or removed from the original list. If the base does close, it won't happen until sometime between 2007 and 2011.

South Dakota got a small bit of good news: the Air National Guard base in Sioux Falls might gain more F-16s and as many as 55 more jobs from base realignments.

Ronald A. Wirtz