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Thursday, February 26, 2015

F-35 in Alaska

Dear Honorable U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy;

I am reaching out to you for help upon a serious concern. Even though my residency is in Alaska, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of Defense” issues, to which this matter should also be of concern, my residency should not bother your interest so please take the time to hear me out. Because of the sensitivity of this issue with the Alaskan delegates – namely Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Congressmen Don Young, it is sometimes difficult to present such concerns forward with any semblance of decency an answer. Most recently you were in conference with the above mentioned “subcommittee” with respect to the F-35 program, wherein General Mark A. Welsh III was asked for a status update of this program. Alaska's Eielson Air Force Base has been recommended as a possible location for the F-35 units/squadron. But I believe (2) “mission critical” issues are being over-looked since the “brass” made the preliminary fact finding determination and must be revisited before a final resting and testing place for this hi-technology war-bird. This project is being shoved down the “Brass”, because the Alaska delegation is adamant it belongs to Alaska, mostly for the jobs it creates. Maybe that brings with it a sense of “Patriotism”? I have reason to believe that Alaska has much to offer such a program, but where in Alaska for success remains questionable. Interior Alaska, which includes Fairbanks and North Pole proper has been subjected to major “Air Quality” problems the past few years, especially during winter and it gets worse as time goes on – the future trends are not encouraging. And due no remedy available to combat this poor quality of breathing air with respect to cleaner burning heating fuels, or “greener” alternative energy sources readily available, the “Air Quality” will continue to degrade and be considered “Un-Healthy” for some age groups, including children. And due the fact that “Greener” is not available in the interior, this base misses out on the mandate for a smaller carbon footprint and not under consideration as a “Green Power Partner”, something the Air Force has been proud to be embrace “Worldwide”, even down in Anchorage. The “Air Quality Alerts” that were posted this past winter alone makes one seriously re-consider living in the interior. It will cause devistating heath effects over time. Even though the Eielson area may be outside the existing non-attainable “Un-Healthy” zone, it is only a matter of time wherein we would see the same deterioration of “Air Quality” hit that attainment area - as it is just 11-miles from the area in question with respect to “Quality” that is ranked in 7th place for particle emissions that routinely exceed EPA guidelines. And the culprit is based on population density wherein due the high price of heating fuels many opt to burn wood. Not to mention “coal” is still the biggest source of pollution and the interior military bases in Alaska still rely heavily on that energy source – due no alternatives! It is only a matter of time wherein that same “Air Quality” deterioration will affect the Eielson area, as any increases in troops or jets, it means an increased population density. Since Fairbanks and North Pole finds many days wherein moms are alerted to keeping their children indoors, those striving for a healthier environment will find residency in and around EAFB – if stationed there or wherein family members become part of the “civilian team” tasked with the upkeep of the F-35. So, the population density will no-doubt see an increase, bringing with it the effects of increased air pollution. And considering that the ground-water in and around North Pole has serious “hazardous” waste issues, that area is not favored by new residents, even if in close proximity to EAFB. So with any increases in the “mission” at Eielson, it could adversely affect the “Air Quality”. But this is something that has been known about for some time at that base. The aging power plants(1952) at Eielson have been designated as a major particulate source under NSPS & HAP Federal guidelines. With that said, the Alaska DEC and EPA have given the EAFB time & permission to replace these aging boilers – already derated due to “aging” problems – but that permission was granted in the 2008/2010 time-frame when the “Title V” permit was up for renewal, in efforts to reduce the particulates by 1/2 of what is produced today – from 0.1 grams to 0.05-grams. But due the fact that EAFB's future has been the candidate for a “BRAC” closure - on-again and off-again - without any funding to move forward to replace this antiquated equipment, it is today very difficult for this critical infrastructure to meet state and EPA current guidelines – and deadlines have been missed. So the age of the base's power plant and the fact that new units have never been installed it should be cause for concern, as what good is it to base pilots in an area wherein it may be “un-healthy” for family members? Until such time the seriousness of this problem is addressed, EAFB should be taken off the “possibility” listing for the F-35. There exists many other notable bases that could accommodate this program – EAFB is not one of them! Secondly, the major refinery that produced “Jet Fuel” in North Pole has completely shut-down. Even though there exists a “small-scale” refinery still in operation in North Pole, that unit would require 15-days of production to fill the “Jet Fuel” tanks at Eielson – but an impossible task as it must cater also to the non-militray consumers. When the “Big Refinery” was in operation, it meant a single days production. And as already mentioned, due the fact that the North Pole “ground water” contamination originated at that refinery, until that environmental nightmare is resolved NO interested party will move in to provide a reliable fuel supply to EAFB. With that said, the only maybe-reliable source of “Jet Fuel” is by rail some 350-miles away from the Port of Anchorage. That supply, because of a single track rail system that crosses many bridges, canyons, and dangerous areas - it could be cut-off for days by a mud or snow slide. Basically speaking, there is no longer a reliable source of fuel for jets parked at EAFB and running on empty and limping along to JBER down south for a fill-up, that just doesn't seem to be a good way to run an Air Force! The “un-reliable” jet fuel supply today was possibly something that was overlooked, as at the time the Air Force was considering the EAFB for the F-35, that refinery run by the Koch Brothers was producing jet fuels. Bottom-line, Eielson served its purpose as a “mission critical” base and today there exists too many “what if” scenarios that should allow for a reconsideration of that base's worth. But with the possibility of aggravating the air quality by increased program demands and the high cost of living due the high cost of refined products, I believe a re-assessment is required, as things have changed. I find it unreasonable that the Air Force would consider the stationing of the F-35 at EAFB when a fuel supply may be unreliable. Now had Alaskans really cared about the military presence in interior Alaska, we would have built a “natural gas” pipeline to the interior many years ago – then the high cost of electricity would have been relieved as would the “Air Quality” been somewhat tamed. So I am requesting that before the final decision be made of the location of the F-35, that (1) the future effects on “Air Quality” should be addressed and before a final commitment by the Department of Defense on the home of the F-35, that the existing boilers be replaced as was planned due concerns of excessive emissions, and (2) the reliability of a “Jet Fuel” supply also be re-assessed. But both are costly options. Replacement boilers would take time and Taxpayer money and it doesn't look like there could ever again be a reliable source of “jet fuel”, in close proximity to EAFB. Because of such concerns and if Alaska is indeed a strategic place to position the F-35, it would be best to locate the F-35 in Alaska at the JBER facility, wherein fuel is readily available along with cleaner burner “natural gas” already. Anchorage proper does not have an “Air Quality” problem and due the fact most consumers use natural gas, or “Green Energy” from “Trash Gas” and “Wind Power” already consumed by the JBER facility and because of natural wind currents through Cook Inlet – air quality is NOT an issue and most likely will never be a concern. With the F-35 stationed at JBER, that allows the same “training areas” to be utilized that were under consideration around the EAFB training areas, as an F-35 travels pretty fast and a few extra minutes is well worth the effort to keep us and our men & women in uniform healthier. Said again, when a resident of Alaska tries to initiate this sort of conversation of concern with the Alaska delegates, it usually falls on deaf ears. So, for the sake of the military families wherein we owe it to such dedication to provide as “clean” an environment as possible, please take my concerns under consideration. This is how I practice “Patriotism” by making sure what we do is for the reason, even if it hurts my economic standing due “military program reductions”. To rally behind an interest only because of how it pads one's wallet...hope you get the point. Let's do what's right. And the stationing of the F-35 at EAFB just begs too many questionable issues. Thank you for your time ~ S Pam McGee.

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