By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
There was plenty of positive news to report when representatives of Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce traveled to Washington, D.C., this week.
The occasion was the chamber’s annual Washington visit to the Pentagon and to Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.
The group of local leaders spent Tuesday at the Pentagon and Wednesday at the Capitol before hosting a reception for civilian and military leaders Wednesday evening.
Vance Air Force Base was at the top of the list of topics discussed, said Jon Blankenship, chamber president and CEO.
“It was an opportunity for us to give an overview of many of the projects we have going on to support Vance, but we also gave an overview of economic issues,” he said.
Blankenship said the group highlighted the area’s strong economic outlook.
“The economy in Enid and northwest Oklahoma is flourishing,” said Blankenship. “Oil and gas development is a key factor in that.”
Delegation members such as Reps. James Lankford, Frank Lucas, Tom Cole and Jim Bridenstine, as well as senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, heard about upcoming local construction project, including the Koch Nitrogen plant expansion, the planned canola plant and the proposed wind farm near Breckinridge, which will total some $1.6 billion, as well as a two-year, 20 percent increase in regional sales.
The chamber group expressed its concern over federal issues, such as Environmental Protection Agency regulations on agriculture, oil and gas.
“All the congressional delegation talked about the importance of winning the Senate and making headway into having a more business-friendly Senate,” Blankenship said. “They talked about limiting the EPA’s ability to enforce undue regulations by limiting their appropriations.”
During their Pentagon visit, the group met with Kathleen Ferguson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, as well as Air Force vice chief of staff Gen. Larry Spencer and Lt. Gen. Judith Fedder, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support.
The primary topic of discussion was the ongoing project to lengthen the main runway at Enid Woodring Regional Airport, which will allow T-38s from Vance to conduct operations there, thus saving pilots time and the Air Force money.
That will become especially important when Vance’s outside runway is closed for refurbishment and repair, work which is expected to begin sometime in 2016.
The design phase of the runway project is 98 percent complete, said Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison. Relocation of Southgate Road is finished and all necessary land has been purchased. He said bids should be let for the project in July or August, and he expects the project to be completed sometime in mid-2015.
“They thanked us for being very supportive of the mission and any way we can help them increase mission capability and reduce costs,” said Cooper. “The runway project is just that.”
That project is a project that would fall under Ferguson’s P4 (public-to-public, public-to-private) initiative, Cooper said.
“This is one way of enhancing the mission and reducing costs,” said Cooper.
The Association of Defense Communities, of which Cooper will become chairman for a two-year period beginning next month, is exploring legislation to make public-to-public, public-to-private ventures easier to achieve.
“It affects our ability to share services back and forth to help us all do things better and reduce costs,” Cooper said.
The Enid group was briefed on the effort to replace the T-38 with a next-generation training aircraft. The T-38 has been used to train pilots at Vance since 1963.
The new trainer could eliminate the need for the T-1, currently used to train students to fly tanker and transport aircraft.
“They will start budgeting on that whole process soon,” Cooper said. “We want to stay in tune to that, keep our foot in the door to be the first to get them.”
Pressures faced by the Air Force due to budget cuts and sequestration also were discussed, Cooper said, but he doubts Congress will authorize another Base Realignment and Closure round in 2017, which Air Force leaders are supporting. He said he expects the Air Force to work with Congress to come up with ways to deal with budget constraints, excess personnel and unneeded infrastructure.