Will SD Legislative Lilliputians Outmaneuver the Needs of Ellsworth Air Force Base?
I am the Prime Sponsor for SB 151, An Act to make an appropriation to provide for the infrastructure to support Ellsworth Air Force Base and to declare an emergency. This bill is an opportunity for the South Dakota Legislature to further the exciting new developments happening at the Ellsworth Air Force Base and in the City of Box Elder related to the B-21 Bomber program. The City is preparing for the influx of approximately seven thousand new residents that will accompany this program at the Base. This is unprecedented growth for a City of 10,000 residents and the success of this project and the B-21 program at Ellsworth is something that can help solidify South Dakota's relationship with our national strategic defense program. Assistance with this infrastructure request will not only provide benefits that resonate across the entire State of South Dakota but also signal the beginning of a new gateway to the Black Hills region. The financial burden of the growth of EAFB should not be placed solely on the shoulders of Box Elder residents. Some have expressed concerns that by providing state funding for city infrastructure we’ll be setting a precedent for other communities to request funding. I would challenge that we should set the precedent that a South Dakota community expecting to grow their population base by 7,000 people in the next 3-5 years AND is South Dakota community which is home to an air force base that is critical to the United States should receive help from the state if possible. This bill is a request for an appropriation of 5.8 Million dollars for infrastructure projects related to the Ellsworth AFB B-21 Expansion. Box Elder is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base the only Active-Duty Federal military installation in the state of South Dakota and is the Gateway to the Black Hills. Over the last 5 years our City has experienced remarkable growth. The B-21 mission coming to Ellsworth Air Force Base greatly multiplies this. Currently Ellsworth Air Force Base has 3500 active-duty personnel. The Air Force states that we can anticipate an additional 1500 active-duty airmen to be stationed at Ellsworth in support of the new mission. When you add military family members it is an addition of 7000 residents to the City. This is a huge increase in population for a community of 10,000 citizens.To best prepare for the upcoming mission, basic infrastructure upgrades are needed. With the requested funds the City will upgrade and add wastewater lines. These upgrades and additions will allow the community to support the large influx of personnel anticipated with the new mission. We know that around 70 percent of all military members reside in off-base housing. Many who do live off base are required to live within a close distance to the base in case of emergency. This project will support the development of additional off-base housing needed to support this surge in personnel. Having local off-base housing for the military families is critical to quality of life for our Airmen. The active-duty members do not, and in some instances cannot (due to mission essential duty), commute from outlying areas. They want and need to reside and do business in their local community. Because of the importance of its mission the United States Air Force has always placed a high level of importance on quality of life for its military members. This infrastructure initiative helps meet the quality-of-life standards set by the Department of Defense. Quality of life is one of the factors used to decide whether a military base is put on or kept off a Base Realignment and Closure list, or BRAC. Quality of life for Air Force members could make the difference on future BRAC considerations. In addition to housing these infrastructure improvements will support commercial, industrial, and future school sites that directly affect the B-21 and will have a huge economic impact on the entire region. Years of preparation have already been underway in an effort to assist the base for future expansion. In 2014 a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility was constructed in anticipation of possible growth. The facility is shared by both Ellsworth Air Force Base and the City of Box Elder. The construction, operation, and maintenance of the facility, and the anticipated growth of Ellsworth Air Force Base required the citizens of Box Elder to bear a disproportionate financial burden. This burden has been so great that we are unable to make additional needed improvements, in any timeframe. Currently, the wastewater fund collects $1.8 million annually. Maintenance and operations, debt service, and administration obligations on the wastewater treatment plant total $1.1 million per year. This only leaves $700,000 for all other expenses related to the wastewater system which includes public works personnel, insurance, equipment, and line repair costs. This appropriation request is not intended to be debt relief or a bail out but funding for the base expansion. If we receive this funding, Box Elder will be able to leverage $32 million in BUILD grant for Hwy 14/16. For anyone who’s driven HWY 14/16, it is one of the most dangerous roads in the state. Lines of cars come to a complete stop on they highway to make left turns across two oncoming lanes of traffic. The accident rate is extremely high, the road is treacherous. We are unable to address the issues with HWY 14/16 until we have fixed the sewage infrastructure issues underneath it. Ellsworth Air Force Base is Box Elder’s largest employer, several businesses and many homes are located inside of EAFB. This means that the City of Box Elder collects no sales tax or property tax from any activity on base, but it’s residents bear tremendous infrastructure burden. Improvement of the sewage infrastructure will allow Box Elder to further develop within city limits to create self sustainable sales and property tax revenue. Three months ago the Air Force confirmed the timeline has been moved up by three years, and indicated projects needed for the expansion will begin construction in 2021. This demanding timeline drives the need to have critical infrastructure improvements completed as soon as possible. The Base, and its new mission are not only important to the City of Box Elder but are important to the entire state of South Dakota and to the national defense of our country. South Dakota, and more specifically Ellsworth Air Force Base, will be home to the most high-tech advanced bomber aircraft ever developed and will make Ellsworth Air Force Base the premier bomber base in the U.S. Air Force. These infrastructure improvements and additions will greatly enhance our ability to properly prepare for and welcome this new mission. Arguments have been made against this project because it is critical infrastructure, days earlier arguments were made to not fund the Liberty Center because it isn’t critical infrastructure. The community of Box Elder deserves fair hearings, transparency, and support from their representatives in Pierre. Box Elder is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base the only Active-Duty Federal military installation in the state of South Dakota. For Box Elder, the Ellsworth Air Force is a blessing and a burden. Any community of 10,000 looking to expand by 7,000 in 3-5 years is remarkable. Box Elder does not have the luxury of time. They can’t apply for loans because they’re at their debt capacity. They don’t have the time to wait for grant applications, risk being denied funding, or not receive access to funding until 2022 or later. Box Elder needs help, and they need it now. Support of SB 151 is an opportunity to leverage federal funds, to help create a vibrant, new gateway to the Black Hills, to alleviate an increased burden for the residents of Box Elder, to support Ellsworth Air Force Base, mission critical personnel, and the community of Box Elder. A strong Box Elder equals a strong Ellsworth Air Force Base, a strong South Dakota, and a strong nation.
Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used.
Contact members of the Joint Appropriations committee to voice your support for SB 151
Representatives: Duba, Linda (D); Fitzgerald, Mary (R); Gross, Randy (R); Haugaard, Steven (R); Howard, Taffy (R); Karr, Chris (R); May, Liz (R); Mills, John (R); Mulally, Tina (R)
Senators: Breitling, Bryan (R); Greenfield, Brock (R); Hunhoff, Jean (R); Johnson, David (R); Kolbeck, Jack (R); Maher, Ryan (R); Nesiba, Reynold (D); Sutton, Maggie (R); Wiik, John (R)
Contributions from the testimony of
Senator Jessica Castleberry, District 35
Doug Curry, Public Works Director, City of Box Elder