By DAN HEATH
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Forty years of Air Force presence in Plattsburgh came to an end Wednesday.
That’s when the final 732-acre parcel of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base was ceremoniously transferred to Clinton County.
The commemoration took place in the meeting room where Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp. has helped guide reuse of the property.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics Kathleen Ferguson, who started her career as a civilian engineer at PAFB, toured the property earlier in the day and told the people gathered for the ceremony she was pleased to see how it has been rejuvenated.
“The closure of Plattsburgh was a very emotional day for me,” she said.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s decision on June 24, 1993, was unexpected and shocked many, Ferguson recalled.
But, she said, the redevelopment shows a region can survive the closure of a military installation.
“The community could have given up, but you didn’t.”
PARC has been able to attract more than 60 businesses to the former base and its 3,463 acres. It is also the site of the expanding Plattsburgh International Airport.
Ferguson credits her time at the base for laying the foundation of what she does today. She was hired for a 90-day temporary position as a civil engineer in 1981 and worked closely with John Huru, a civil engineer at the base. He kept her on until she left Plattsburgh for Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in 1983. Ferguson has now spent 31 years working with the Air Force.
BOOST TO AREA
Ferguson was one of several speakers who talked about the impact PAFB had on the region.
Much of the property lies within the Town of Plattsburgh. Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said that when the Air Force established a base in Plattsburgh, it brought economic, cultural and social benefits.
“The Air Force brought so much to this community,” he said.
When the base closed, there was a lot of fear about what that would mean to the region. But, Bassett said, a dedicated group of community leaders started to take action even before the news was delivered.
Those efforts led to the redevelopment, which is highlighted by Plattsburgh International Airport.
“It’s outgrowing its skin before the carpet wears out,” Bassett said of the airport.
The future of the former base property remains promising, he said.
“The things that will be are what I’m excited about.”
PARC Board of Directors Chairman Gilbert Duken said that when he was appointed to the board 15 years ago, people told him not to accept transfer of the property because it would bankrupt the county.
He was pleased to note that the opposite turned out to be true.
“To date, PARC has managed approximately 200 leases and completed160 property closings. Using a mix of federal and state grants and the monies generated from the lease and the sale of property, PARC has completed a long list of construction, rehabilitation and demolition projects to further the properties reuse,” he said.
Duken said that as it works to put itself out of existence, PARC is focused on the final 16 available parcels.
“With most of our work behind us, we can be proud that the former base property already serves a multitude of uses in almost every category you can think of. And now, we look forward to seeing that success continue to grow.”
Clinton County Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley said that when he became chairman in 2001, the county was starting to work on the transfer of properties. Legislators needed to make a decision on how much land they would need along the flightline and how much they could make available for development, he said.
“Today’s a milestone in many ways,” Langley said.
He thanked the Air Force from not walking away from the environmental cleanup issues on the property but instead investing millions of dollars to make sure the properties were safe to transfer.
After the ceremony, David Farnsworth, program manager and Base Realignment and Closure coordinator for Plattsburgh Air Force Base, said the property still has still 15 active contamination sites. Three have mediation systems, six are routinely monitored, and six have property restrictions.
Near the end of the ceremony, former Plattsburgh Intermunicipal Development Corp. Chairman Bill McBride asked for a moment of silence in memory of Clyde Lewis and his efforts to bring the Air Force to Plattsburgh.
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See video of this event by Staff Photographer Kelli Catana.
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