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Fight to Save Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base Builds

By Eileen Buckley and Mark Wozniak

Niagara Falls, NY – About 600 people rallied Sunday to support the Niagara Air Reserve Station now on the proposed Pentagon list for closure.

The base is home of the 914th Air Lift Wing and the 107th Air Refueling Wing. It has 642 civilian employees and hosts more than 2,000 Reservists and has an annual payroll of about 50 million dollars.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission will submit a final list to President Bush by September 8. The Niagara base was on the closing list in 1995, but removed after local politicians lobbied Pentagon officials.

Residents living in Niagara County say they are very concerned about the recommendation to close the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base.

They say the region can't afford to lose more jobs and business.

Cheryl Pennesi of Niagara Falls showed up on Friday at the Niagara Falls Airport to listen to federal, state and local leaders vow to fight the recommendation to close the base.

"Everyone didn't believe it was going to happen," said Pennesi. "If somebody is going to save it, I think it is going to be Hillary (U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton.) She seems to be the most knowledgeable of the speakers."

Pennesi said she knows of number of people connected to to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base.

"I have friends with children who are in the reserves. My doctor is even in Iraq with the reserves."

But Elsie Slack also of Niagara Falls said she is not putting all her faith in the politicians.

"I think the politicians are going to do what they want, especially the ones who are above the local leaders," said Slack.

But this isn't the first time the Niagara region put up a fight against a proposed closure of the Falls base. They fought a similar battle back in 1995 and won.

Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven Richards hopes they have the same outcome this time around.

"The whole area knows how vital this is. I'm just totally taken a back that it is on the list. I'm just shocked over it," said Richards.

Richards said that in 1995 he lobbied hard to get the Falls Base off the closure list. In fact, he said the town of Niagara spent $10,000 to help lobby against the closing.

He sid he plans to keep the pressure on Washington once again. Richards said closing the Falls Base would have a devestating impact on the town of Niagara.