Legislators Cheer $250,000 Earmarked for Air Base Hub

VIENNA, Ohio –The Mahoning Valley’s state legislators gathered Thursday afternoon to celebrate an amendment to Ohio Senate Bill 390 that allows $250,000 toward repurposing a vacant cargo building for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

The cargo hangar, on the west end of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, will be used as a regional embarkation and debarkation terminal for military personnel and equipment if plans move forward, said state Rep. Sean O’Brien, D-63 Bazetta.

“There’s five right now in the country, and we will be the sixth,” O’Brien told reporters during a press event held in the 24,000-square-foot hangar. “This will add a huge economic benefit to our area and also help the base survive any BRAC closures in the future.”

BRAC is an acronym for the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Committee, and is established periodically to re-evaluate U.S. military installations across the country and determine whether they be consolidated or closed.

O’Brien said the region’s state legislators, members of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, Col. James Dignan, commander of the 910th Airlift Squadron at the YARS, and the Western Reserve Port Authority have worked on such a proposal for more than a year.

However, he and others were miffed that the appropriation wasn’t included in the biennial budget bill that was signed by Gov. John Kasich two weeks ago.

Local officials had initially requested $1.2 million toward the project. When that proposal failed to make the cut, O’Brien and Dignan met with House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to discuss alternative funding for the project. “He told us if we could find the money, he’d go with it,” O’Brien said.

That led to discussions with the chamber, O’Brien continued, which identified $250,000 in state funds already allocated for a project in Lordstown that wasn’t going to move forward.

An amendment was included in Senate Bill 390 that allowed the money to transfer to this project, was approved by the Senate Wednesday evening, and then by the House later in the evening.

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill said the money was to be used for an oil and gas training facility in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College at the Ohio Commerce Center. However, the project was abandoned after the oil and gas market collapsed.

Hill said it just made sense to repurpose the funds for another worthy project. “It’s great to see a regional effort like this. You realize how much of an impact this place has,” he remarked.

Dignan praised the work of the delegation and local officials. “It’s something that the Valley can be proud of. It will further cement our long-term sustainability here in the Valley,” he said. “This was the hard part.”

He also noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross have expressed interest in using the facility.

The state funds would be used to pay down the bond issue on the cargo building, which stands at about $1 million and held by the Western Reserve Port Authority, noted state Rep. John Boccieri, D-59 New Middletown. The idea is to combine the state funds with other grant monies to pay down the entire bond issue.

The port authority would then own the building and amend its land-use agreement with YARS. “This facility will largely make this base stronger,” Boccieri said.

Using the cargo hub as an embarkation and debarkation site for servicemen and servicewomen could also help with local economic development activity, Boccieri said. Since the draw would be regional – some service members traveling from as far as New York, for example – out-of-town family members would probably need to stay overnight and use the services in this region.

Other legislators joining Boccieri and O’Brien were state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33 Canfield, and state Reps. Michael O’Brien, D-64 Warren, and Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring security to people who work here and those who support our military bases,” Lepore-Hagan said. “It’s really an important moment for us.”

Schiavoni noted that this is a clear example of how creativity and cooperation can have an impact. “The Chamber, bringing everyone together, helps us to have these discussions so we can grow this facility.”

State Rep. Michael O’Brien noted that of the 40 pieces in the legislation, just three were sponsored by Democrats and the YARS funding was one of them. “I think that’s important. It’s something that they took a look at and to support. Everyone worked together to make this happen.”

State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-32 Hubbard, who could not attend the event, said in a statement that she is “pleased to see this vital project receive the funding to move forward.”

Pictured: State Reps. Sean O’Brien and Michael O’Brien at today’s press event. Standing behind them are state Michele Lepore-Hagan, Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka and Col. James Dignan.

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