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BRAC Commission Hears Testimony for Keeping Falls Base Open

By Eileen Buckley and The Associated Press

Buffalo, NY – The fight to keep the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station open kicks into high gear Monday. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission will host a regional hearing in Buffalo.

"The military made a bad decision when the put Niagara on the list," said US Senator Charles Schumer and other leaders of the Western New York delegation.

They along with the Niagara Military Affairs Committee and the public are fighting hard to convince the commission that it would be a mistake to close the Falls base. The BRAC Commission opens the hearing at 1pm at UB'S Center for the Arts.

Governor George Pataki will be the first to testify. He will be followed by Senator Schumer.

"This base in Niagara is needed for homeland security, recruitment and the military mission," Schumer said. "Do not close it."

Schumer says recruitment and homeland security will be a big part of the pitch to the commission. Leaders say closing a base that is located so close to an international border creates more vulnerability for the United States. The BRAC Commission chairman as well as three other members are expected to be here. Schumer says their attendance is very important.

"The fact that we are getting so many members of the Commission coming to Buffalo is a good sign. But we cannot count any chickens before they hatch. This is an uphill fight," Schumer said. "But the whole delegation is working together. I don't think this hearing is just for show. I think it is for real, because I think they are having doubts about closing Niagara."

Schumer says, in the end, it will be up the commissioners to recommend which bases will close.

"But if we work real hard, there is a chance we can reverse it," Schumer said. "And every one of us, from senators and congressmen to the guy that cleans the floors at Niagara, have to do everything we can to convince them to stay open."

The Falls Air Base employs 3,000 full and part time workers making it the second largest employer in Niagara County.

On Sunday, base supporters staged a rally at Dunn Tire Park in downtown Buffalo, following the Buffalo Bisons game.

William Fichtner, an actor in "Black Hawk Down" and "The Longest Yard" is a Western New York native, who spoke at the rally. He says both the community and the country need the Niagara Falls base, where his sister is stationed.

"We will fight this fight through the BRAC process to the very end for our own local heroes," John Cooper, vice chairman of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, said to cheers from sign-waving supporters at the ball park.

"The community support is crucial ... They have to see that the community wants the base here," said Col. Pat Ginavan of the 107th Air Refueling Wing, a National Guard unit on site.