YARS and Port Authority Tout ‘Lockstep’ Relationship

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Improvements ranging from a new onsite lodging facility to running tracks have taken place at Youngstown Air Reserve Station over the past several years, and every one of those has been done in partnership, Col. Jeff Van Dootingh said.

Van Dootingh, who took over as commander of the 910th Airlift Wing in June, addressed what he considered one of YARS’ most important partners – the Western Reserve Port Authority’s board of directors.

“The port authority is one of those huge partners we cannot do things without,” he said.

The directors got a first-hand look at YARS and learned more about its operations during their monthly meeting Wednesday at the base, which was followed by a brief tour. The base is adjacent to and shares runways with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, which the port authority was formed to assume operations of in 1992.

“The interconnectivity of the airport facility with the air base is lockstep,” said Anthony Trevena, WRPA chief operating officer. “We exist for each other.”

Though commonly referred to as an air base, YARS is an air station. “The difference is we don’t own runways or have our own air traffic control. We rely on you folks to do that for us,” Senior Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr. pointed out.

Dave Christner, president of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Council and vice president of the Youngstown Air Reserve Base Community Council, outlined the two entities’ roles and drew attention to key statistics about the station. Formed more than 35 years ago, the base community council has two missions: to communicate to and educate the public on the importance of YARS, and to financially support the men and women who work at the station.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people in the Mahoning Valley who don’t realize there is an air base here,” he remarked.

The base community council’s inability to lobby government bodies to ensure the base’s needs are “known and taken care of” led to EOMAC’s creation in 2016, Christner continued. “If you’re not out there lobbying and having a strong lobby presence in D.C. and Columbus, you’re not going to get anything,” he said.

Christner emphasized YARS’ economic impact as justification for the efforts of both organizations. The station has a total of 2,026 personnel, making it the top employer in Trumbull County and the third largest in the Mahoning Valley. Its economic impact for the 2020 fiscal year totaled $137 million, he said.

Local developments involving electric vehicle technology, incubators and 3-D printing are encouraging, he said. “But you never want to forget the 2,000 jobs that we have in hand right now that can sustain us until those other ones can ramp up and take a big role in our unemployment statistics.”

Christner pointed to recent and upcoming “wins” for YARS, including $8 million for front gate security improvements.

Van Dootingh cited the project as well as an example of the partnership between the station and the port authority, which agreed to purchase property needed for the gate when the Army Corps of Engineers and the owner of the property could not reach an agreement on a sale price.

“Things oftentimes move at the speed of headquarters, which is never as fast as we want it to, right?” Van Dootingh said.

The project has “been a little bit of a process,” noted Marty Loney, chairman of the WRPA board.

Dave Christner, Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission board president

The corps of engineers is updating its appraisal of the 42.3-acre site, said Kevin Kern, port authority chief financial officer. Kern expects the appraisal to be complete by the end of August and for an offer to sell the property to the corps to come before the board at its September meeting.

As much as he appreciates quality of life improvements at the station that help retain airmen, “Even more dear to my heart” is improving security, Van Dootingh said. His biggest fear is if an individual or group wanted to do harm to reservists, they are “sitting ducks” waiting on King Graves Road to enter the facility when they report for drill weekends.

“It’s a very important project. We absolutely could not do it without your help,” Van Dootingh said.

The new gate will permit the base to bring 60 vehicles off the road at once for check in, said Barko, base spokesman. Once the corps of engineers completes the purchase of the property from WRPA, the base civil engineer expects the contract bidding and award process to take about six months.

“After the contract is awarded, we will have a ceremonial groundbreaking, tentatively planned for spring of 2022, with 18 months of constructions to follow. So just about 24 months or two years total, from land acquisition to a ribbon cutting for our new front gate complex,” he said.

Station officials also are anticipating $8 million to widen the assault runway, which would permit aircraft such as the C17s used by the Pittsburgh Air National Guard to use it for training.

Widening the assault runway will make YARS “one of the premier training facilities in the United States,” Christner said. Other bases that already use YARS for practice include Wright-Patterson and Joint Base Andrews.

“People like to some here because it’s easy to get to and they can practice with little impact on traffic,” he said.

“Any improvement to this facility is going to help us maintain the facility,” added Rich Edwards, chairman of the port authority’s aviation committee.

Following the meeting, a handful of port authority and airport representatives, including Edwards, took a brief bus tour of YARS and checked out one of the C130H aircraft stationed there. They heard from Lt. Col. Jeff Shaffer, 910th deputy operations commander, about the wing’s airlift and aerial spray missions.

“It’s phenomenal. If people only realized or could see what’s here,” Edwards said.

The focus on YARS at the port authority meeting demonstrated the importance of efforts to keep it going, said port authority board member Kathleen Kennedy.

“Today’s meeting showed the results of working together hand in hand,” she remarked. “It’s impressive to see what they’re doing and the end result of all this work.”

During the meeting, the port authority board also approved a $17,216 change order for J. Herbert Construction, which was contracted to build a 2,200-square-foot building for a Dunkin Donuts restaurant at 3900 Market St., Boardman, and to prepare the site for further development. The change order brings the contract up to $954,216 from the originally contacted $937,000.

One of the factors that changed the scope of the contract was the discovery of a utility vault on the former bank site, said Randy Partika, WRPA project manager and development engineer.

The Dunkin store is now open. A grand-opening event is scheduled for Aug. 18.

Pictured at top: Lt. Col. Jeff Shaffer takes WRPA board members on a tour of the YARS air station and a C130H aircraft.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.