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Published April 16 2012

Fargo pledges $50,000 to Air Guard lobbying effort

FARGO – Taxpayers here will help fund a private effort to save jobs and manned missions at Fargo’s part-time Air National Guard base.

The F-M Air Guard Support Group plans to use the public aid to hire a consultant and lobbyist, who they hope can convince Congress to restore funding for North Dakota’s Air Guard missions, said Dick Walstad, chairman of the volunteer group.

Defense funding proposals in Congress deny Fargo’s base the four C-27 jets it was scheduled to get by early 2013. The canceled jets mean North Dakota’s would be the only Air Guard in the country without a manned air mission, Walstad said.

The cuts to Fargo’s base also put local jobs at risk, he said.

Walstad added that the lack of funding might consequently force Hector International Airport to raise its airline fees in order to cover the extra $500,000 a year it’d have to pay to operate the airport’s fire station, which the guard funds and staffs.

“We’re facing a lot of consequences that just aren’t good for us,” he said.

City commissioners agreed, unanimously approving a $50,000 pledge Monday to support the group’s lobbying efforts.

“It’s pertinent that we try to save what we can save out there,” Commissioner Brad Wimmer said.

Fargo’s contribution gives the support group more than $100,000 in available funds this year.

The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation has given $30,000 to the cause, and Hector International Airport’s authority has pledged $25,000, Walstad said Monday.

The guard’s support group has tapped retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver to help their lobbying campaign as a consultant. He’ll be in town next week to look over Fargo’s situation, Walstad said.

This latest battle over federal funding for the North Dakota Air National Guard stems from a fight seven years ago, when Fargo lost its fighter planes to congressional cuts, Walstad told city leaders.

As part of that decision, Fargo’s Air Guard base was given eight C-21 jets to use until the new C-27s arrived in late 2012 or early 2013.

However, funding proposals now call for the C-21 jets to be retired by this fall and don’t fulfill the promise of the new aircraft, Walstad said.

“The deal is a deal until the deal in Washington isn’t a deal anymore, and that’s precisely what happened,” he said. “It’s a battle we have to fight.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541