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Fighter Wing Moving To Western Mass.

November 11, 2005

HYANNIS, Mass. -- With the future mission of Otis Air National Guard Base still undecided, Coast Guard officials are concerned about the fate of their air station, which shares an airstrip at the base.

While Otis will remain open, the Air National Guard's 102nd Fighter Wing is moving to western Massachusetts.

The guard unit maintained the runways and other airport infrastructure at an annual cost of $17 million to $20 million, an amount Coast Guard officials say they cannot afford.

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., hosted a meeting in Washington on Thursday with Gov. Mitt Romney, where they told Coast Guard officials that they would try to land a new military mission for Otis that would bear the cost of runway maintenance.

The meeting was also attended by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass.

Otis's new military mission is expected to be announced on Dec. 1, but most of the options under consideration do not include an aviation mission that would subsidize the airstrip.

"We won't be able to find that money at all," said First District Adm. David Pekoske after Thursday's meeting.

Although the Coast Guard has in the past discussed alternative sites for the air station, relocation was not mentioned at Thursday's meeting.

"There were no discussions of the Coast Guard pulling out of Otis," Romney said.

The Coast Guard's First District, based in Boston, considers Otis the perfect location for its four Falcon jets and four Jayhawk helicopters.

The Coast Guard wants to expand its operations there, perhaps by consolidating command centers located at Woods Hole and Providence, R.I.

That would be dependent on the air station remaining on the Massachusetts Military Reservation, Pekoske said.

He estimated the Coast Guard had "upwards of a year to work through the issue."

Delahunt aide Mark Forest said the meeting was a chance to reassure the Coast Guard that the Congressional delegation will work with them to find funding for the airstrip.

"I don't think anyone is ruling anything in or anything out at this point," Forest said.

But money is the key, and the Coast Guard doesn't seem to have it.

The Coast Guard conducts search and rescue missions, homeland security and drug interdiction efforts from the Cape. It is the fifth largest Coast Guard air station in the country.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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