BRAC Commission Continues Realignment

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WASHINGTON -- South Dakota lawmakers have won their battle to persuade base closing commission to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base in their state open.

The commission voted today to reject the Pentagon recommendation that would close Ellsworth and move its 29 B-1B bombers to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. The Pentagon recommendation also would have moved 30 C-130s transport aircraft from Dyess to three other

The vote to keep the bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base came amid fears that consolidating the bombers at a single base might pose a national security risk.

But also discussed was litigation in the Abilene area to restrict bomber training flights in most cases to no lower than 500 feet altitude. Bomber crews prefer flying at 300 feet, but the Abilene litigants argued that created excessive wake turbulence.

South Dakota Senator John Thune downplayed his staff's work with the Abilene litigants and denied "conspiring with people down in Texas" against the Dyess recommendation.

The independent panel considering military base closures late today voted to remove 15 F-16's at Houston's Ellington Field.

Supporters of Ellington have said elimination of the jets would leave the petrochemical industry along the Texas Gulf Coast vulnerable to terrorists.

Opponents of retiring the fighter jets include US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of nearby Sugar Land, US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Houston Mayor Bill White.

More than 300 plants line the Houston Ship Channel, and chemical plants operate along the Texas Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Beaumont.