Niagara Gazette

April 10, 2013

County set to hire consulting firm to protect Falls air base

Staff Reports
Niagara Gazette

LOCKPORT — The Niagara County Legislature is set to hire a consulting firm specializing in protecting military installations from defense cuts to defend the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and its 3,000 jobs.

The Principi Group, headed by former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi, who also chaired the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), is being hired by the county as part of an effort — funded largely through a $300,000 state military base retention grant awarded earlier this year.

Under the county’s pending contract with the Principi Group, the Arlington, Va.-based consulting firm will draft a “Future Mission Study” for the Niagara Falls air base. The actual cost to the county was not disclosed in a press release.

During the last round of air base closures, a lobbying firm, Hyjek Fix, which worked on contract with the community-based NiMAC for the past 17 years, was used. The firm recently quit after it was hired by New York state to prepare an assessment of all five military bases in the state.

The report is ordered in anticipation of a new round of federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission hearings by 2015-2016, according to legislature Chairman Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield.

Albany-based Capitol Public Strategies had been retained through Dec. 31 at a cost of $5,000 per month.

Legislators hailed the hiring of the consultant group in a county press release.

“This is a very serious effort on our part to protect our base and our local workers,” Legislator Kathryn Lance, R-Wheatfield, whose district includes a significant portion of the base, said.  “When we lose missions at our base, when we lose aircraft, we also lose jobs — jobs that result in an estimated $200 million local economic impact.”

The decision to contract with Principi came after the county solicited bids for the contract work and brought local stakeholders together to devise a strategy to protect the base. County officials were joined in reviewing bids for the contract work and interviewing finalists were representatives of the Niagara Military Affairs Council (NIMAC), the Niagara USA Chamber, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

The cost of the retention efforts is being covered by a state-provided grant, rather than through local taxes — and Sen. George D. Maziarz said he was pleased to see the county being proactive on base retention.

“The Niagara Falls Air Base is Niagara County’s largest employer and its success is vital to our community,” he said in a release. “I’m pleased that numerous community stakeholders came together to carefully select the new consultant, ensuring that everyone is working toward the continued survival of the air base. I look forward to working with The Principi Group and assisting them in any way that I can to make sure the Niagara Falls Air Base is running for many years to come.”

Legislator Dave Godfrey, R-Wilson, the Niagara County Legislature’s liaison to NIMAC, agreed with Maziarz, noting that county lawmakers had endorsed a process that included various community stakeholders to ensure a well-rounded approach to preserving the base.

“This has really been a team effort by stakeholders, and the county is pleased with the contributions these other groups—the NFTA, NIMAC, and the Chamber—have made,” Godfrey said.  “When you consider the impact this base has on our community not just in the number of jobs, as Kathryn [Lance] noted, but through the joint use agreement between the Niagara Falls Airport and the base, you appreciate how critical a piece of infrastructure this is.”