Niagara Gazette

January 5, 2014

GLYNN: Drones still on agenda at air base

By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Could a drone be coming soon to your neighborhood? It’s possible, we’ve been told several times. 

In fact, “It’s definitely on,” says Merrell Lane, immediate past president of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, alluding to the ambitious project on the drawing boards for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Lane has been a prime mover in the citizen activist group that worked tirelessly to convince authorities to keep the base open. The future of the facility, across from the Niagara Falls International Airport, had been clouded more than once by the U.S. Department of Defense strategy called the Base and Realignment Closure. BRAC, as it’s better known, is the process the federal government adopted, ostensibly, to increase efficiency. Since 1989, during the first of five BRAC rounds, more than 350 installations have been closed. Although the move is touted as cost-saving, members of Congress raise vociferous objections to any scheme that eliminates pork barrel in their district. 

The harsh reality is that the air reserve station here means hundreds of jobs and an estimated $88 million annual payroll for the Western New York economy. 

Lev Grossman, a writer for Time. best describes the drone: “It’s a quadcopter with four rotors; basically it looks like a giant four-leaf clover designed by Darth Vader.” 

They’re unmanned, of course, but that shouldn’t stir any surprise. In fact, more than a third of the U.S. Air Force fleet is unmanned. In 2004, the Air Force had some 50 drones; that fleet today is about 7,500. And the drone project here could virtually assure a new lease on life for the base.

Spying on the nation’s enemies is one of the major missions for this innovative system.

There are negative factors too, a subject of bitter debate. While they target terrorists, those attacks also have killed innocent civilians. President Obama insists the flights have not resulted in “a huge number of civilian casualties.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in England, estimated that in the past 10 years, the CIA-directed drone attacks have killed nearly 3,000 persons in Pakistan alone. Of that total, 475 to 890 were civilians. 

On a positive note, drones are good for more than just hunting terrorists.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that it has been using drones (Predators) to keep tabs on the Mexican border since 2005. NASA deployed one (the Global Hawk) to study Hurricane Nadine. In Washington state, the Department of Transportation is seeking to use drones to help control avalanches. And the U.S. Forest Service eyes the drone as a vital tool in fighting forest fires.

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ACROSS THE BORDER: Talks are scheduled within the next two weeks between the Buffalo Bills and Rogers Media to possibly discuss the future of the Bills-in-Toronto series. Under the agreement, the Bills have been playing one of their eight regular season home games at the Rogers Centre, which is also home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Toronto Sun reported Saturday that the meeting would be held Jan. 12 although a Bills spokesman was quick to deny that any such session was planned.

For the record, attendance at those games have been disappointing. Five games are still on tap in Toronto over the next four years but, according to the Sun, NFL officials might be asked to discuss with Rogers a way to end what the newspaper described as “a PR nightmare for all involved.”

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TAKING A BREAK: Ashker’s Cafe and restaurant on Main Street,Youngstown. will be closed for two months, starting Monday. It is scheduled to re-open March 1, according to owner Angelo Ashker. The shutdown will obviously leave only one business operating on the east side of that small block, between Lockport Street and Hinman Street — Vince’s Barber Shop. The former Fyfe & Drum, a restaurant in the same block has been vacant for years because the new owner of the premises had a change in plans.

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TRIVIA QUIZ: What did the acronym SPUR stand for? Clue: It was an arm of the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.(Answer Thursday)

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.