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Published May 07 2012

West Fargo, Cass County chip in for Air Guard lobbying

FARGO – Cass County and West Fargo have joined a growing coalition of metro governments and organizations fighting to keep a manned air mission at Fargo’s part-time Air National Guard base.

In separate meetings Monday, Cass County and West Fargo commissioners each pledged $12,000 toward the cause, which aims to preserve jobs and sustain operations at the base.

Defense funding proposals in Congress deny the Fargo base four C-27 jets it was scheduled to get by early 2013. The canceled jets mean North Dakota’s 119th Wing would be the only Air Guard unit in the country without a manned air mission.

“We’re desperately trying to turn that around,” said Dick Walstad, one of the volunteers leading the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Air Guard Support Group.

The group has already tapped the financial support of the city of Fargo, Hector International Airport and the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation.

With the contributions approved Monday from Cass County and West Fargo, the effort now has about $130,000 behind it.

Leaders from both Cass County and West Fargo supported their pledges without hesitation.

“We definitely have to be part of this,” West Fargo Commissioner Mark Simmons said.

Cass County Commissioner Darrell Vanyo said: “Being the only state that doesn’t have a flying mission is pretty tough to take. ... We certainly want to support this initiative in the hopes this could change.”

Average residents would feel the impact if Fargo lost its manned air mission, Walstad said.

Hector International Airport might have to raise its airline fees in order to cover the extra $500,000 a year it would have to pay to operate the airport’s fire station, which the guard funds and staffs.

Losing the mission would cut 1,000 jobs at the Fargo base and have a direct economic impact of more than $70 million a year on the Fargo-Moorhead business community, Walstad said.

The support group has hired a consultant, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver, to help lobby Congress to restore the jets. Pledges made by the local supporters will go toward paying Weaver’s $10,000-per-month consulting fee.

This latest battle for the state’s Air National Guard stems from a fight seven years ago, when Fargo lost its fighter planes to congressional cuts. As part of that decision, Fargo’s 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.

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