September 26, 2012

Editorial: Base transfer monumental

Though Plattsburgh will always cherish its Air Force past, the community can be proud of replacement efforts that have reached fulfilling heights.

A week ago today, a small group of officials and residents got together at a building that once housed the Plattsburgh Air Force Base flight simulator to formally accept the final 732 acres of land from military ownership.

It was a symbolic gesture, since the land had already been transferred. But as symbols go, this was a big one.

The Air Force had maintained a high-profile presence in the community for 40 years. Troops stationed here had helped protect our nation through World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War.

Anyone who grew up around here has vivid memories of the Air Base: tankers and cargo planes dotting the wide expanse of runway, jets whooshing overhead, testimonial dinners where officers in dress uniform mingled with community supporters, fireworks viewed by thousands of people perched on blankets at the Oval, the Santa perched on the plane for the holidays, the excitement of the air shows.

Base personnel — 4,400 at its height — spent a great deal of money at local stores, restaurants, car dealerships and bars. The Air Force would periodically put out reports on PAFB’s economic impact, claiming to insert about $150 million a year into the local economy. Even if that was a little overblown, as those reports with multiplier figures can be, the impact was substantial. 

And it wasn’t all financial. Some of the military personnel volunteered with local service organizations. They wooed local women and men, and some of those relationships resulted in marriages that forever linked families to Plattsburgh.

It wasn’t all rosy. Some of the service members committed crimes or were arrested for unruly behavior or drugs. Neighbors of the Air Base complained about the noise. Anti-war activists saw the base as a symbol of aggression, not economic bounty. The whole parcel, which spans the city and town of Plattsburgh, was exempt from taxation.

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