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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — After more than two years of delays, the Spanish government has lifted roadblocks to nearly $40 million in NATO funding for construction projects at Aviano Air Base, U.S. Air Force and NATO officials said.

But that doesn’t necessarily give the go-ahead for shovels to hit the dirt on a new airport passenger terminal, 11,000-square-foot library, water well and upgrades to the flight line that were delayed by diplomatic stonewalling, said Lt. Col. Ken Polasek, who is in charge of base construction.

Because of budget constraints, the Air Force now may be thinking twice about the $9 million it pledged to contribute to those projects, of which about $8 million will be funneled through U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Polasek said.

“The money crunch is very, very hard,” Polasek said. “In years past, [USAFE] would have cut the checks as soon as we got the green light,” on the NATO funding.

Air Force budget planners are reviewing command coffers and have not made a decision on whether to sign off on all of the planned construction projects around the command, according to Maj. Pat Rider, a USAFE spokesman.

“They’re still reviewing what the impact will be,” Rider said.

The air terminal, library, well and flight line work is part of a larger building boom called Aviano 2000, a conglomeration of construction projects totaling $550 million. Aviano 2000 is designed to give the base almost entirely new, state-of-the-art facilities to meet the needs of the two fighter squadrons that moved to the base in the mid-1990s.

NATO is funding $384 million, or 70 percent, of that construction, said Polasek, program manager of Aviano 2000.

Spain put the brakes on some of the projects after the United States refused to allow NATO funds to pay for some projects in Spain. Under NATO rules, a member country can hold up such funding indefinitely if it wants time for study.

“They weren’t pleased with the U.S. position,” Polasek said.

So work did not begin on the new passenger terminal, library, water well or on new communication and electrical lines on the base flight line, Polasek said. At the time Spain stalled NATO funding, those were the only unfunded Aviano 2000 projects, Polasek said.

After two years of negotiations, the United States persuaded Spain to allow the construction to continue by conceding some ground on its stance about NATO funding for projects in Spain, according to a U.S. NATO official involved with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for the Spanish NATO delegation did not respond to requests for an interview.

But now the Air Force budget crunch is impeding progress.

“It’s a little embarrassing,” Polasek said. “After all we did [to persuade Spain to approve the projects], and now we’re not able to come up with the funds on our side.”

In the works ...

While some Aviano 2000 projects are delayed because of Air Force budget problems, several continue to come online. They include:

a 100-room dormitory, which opened Tuesdaya 21-lane indoor firing range, scheduled for completion in Aprila new control tower, scheduled to open in the coming weeksa new youth center, slated to open in Junea 24,000-square-foot complex housing a new post office and movie theater, slated to open in JulySource: Aviano 2000


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