The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 11, 2013

Vance is key topic during Chamber trip to Washington

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

WASHINGTON — Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation got a sense of what’s going on in Enid Wednesday, as the annual Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce trip to Washington, D.C., concluded.

The group met Wednesday afternoon with Reps. Frank Lucas, Jim Bridenstine and James Lankford, as well as Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, then hosted a reception for legislators and military leaders Wednesday evening.

Among the topics discussed was President Obama’s proposed 2014 defense budget, released Wednesday, that calls for a Base Realignment and Closure round in 2015. Obama’s 2013 defense budget called for BRAC rounds both this year and in 2015, but that proposal was opposed by both parties in Congress. Congress likewise will have to sign off on the new proposal before it becomes reality.

“It is anybody’s guess whether there will be the political will to do that moving forward, only time will tell,” said Jon Blankenship, president and chief executive officer of Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce.

Among the topics mentioned by the visitors from Enid was the community’s relationship with Vance Air Force Base.

“We mentioned the importance of the Enid-Vance partnership and the ongoing community support Enid demonstrates,” said Blankenship.

The group highlighted the new control tower at Vance, a $9.5 million project set to open later this year. This was the latest of some $200 million in military construction at the base over the past 15 years.

“All were congressional add-ons with the assistance of Sen. Inhofe and Rep. Lucas,” said Blankenship. “We appreciate their ongoing support.”

Due to federal budget constraints, the next proposed military construction project at Vance, a $17.9 million effort to expand and consolidate existing flying squadron facilities, “Will probably have to be funded in phases,” Blankenship said.

Other examples of the partnership between Enid and Vance highlighted by the group were the $561,000 joint-use aircraft hangar at Enid Woodring Regional Airport, which opened in 2012 and is used to house both military and civilian planes, as well as the ongoing $5.8 million project to lengthen Woodring’s main runway to 8,000 feet. That will enable T-38s from Vance to land and take off from the airport. Groundbreaking for that project is expected to be later this year.

The chamber group thanked the delegation, especially Inhofe and Lucas, for their help in keeping Woodring’s control tower open, when the Federal Aviation Administration announced plans last month to discontinue staffing in some small airport towers because of the sequester budget cuts.

“We gained an exemption because of the importance of the tower to the mission at Vance,” Blankenship said.

The Enid delegation told the congressmen about the ongoing renovation of local schools, the downtown Enid Renaissance Project, the master trail system, the upgrade to the waste water facility, the growth of the wind farm north of town, the proposed canola plant and the recent announcement of a downtown hotel.

“We had a discussion about our regional economy and economic issues,” Blankenship said. “Enid has shown substantial job growth.”

Last fall, he said, Garfield County ranked 25th nationally in terms of job growth and has shown $100 million increase in retail sales in the past year.

“A lot of it is driven by the energy sector,” Blankenship said.

The Enid contingent emphasized the importance of avoiding federal regulation of the practice of hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas drilling.

“That would have a negative impact on our economy,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for the better part of six decades in Oklahoma, we don’t need federal regulation.”