VICENZA, Italy — The United States has awarded a 245-million euro contract for construction of facilities at the Dal Molin airfield to a joint venture of two Italian companies.

The companies, C.M.C. di Ravenna and Consozrio Cooperative Construzioni of Bologna, will be charged with building offices, work spaces and recreational areas for elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

Construction isn’t expected to start until the summer and won’t be completed until sometime in 2012, according to a press release issued Friday by the Southern European Task Force (Airborne). The Navy — in charge of all U.S. military construction in Italy — awarded the contract, but the Army announced the decision.

Two battalions and the headquarters of the brigade combat team are based in Vicenza. Three other battalions are in Bamberg, Germany, and a fourth is in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Some elements currently based at Caserma Ederle would move to join elements from Germany on the airfield — a move bitterly opposed by some local residents and anti-war activists around the country. Protesters have set up a tent near the site and have staged a series of large gatherings over the last two years since news about the plans gained national attention.

The two countries had been negotiating well before that and the United States reportedly received informal approval from the center-right government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and narrowly received backing from the local city council. Several elements of the center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi opposed the project, but the previous commitments were honored. Paolo Costa, a former mayor of Venice and current member of the European Parliament, was named special commissioner for the project.

At Costa’s urging, the construction site was moved from one side of the airfield to the other to allay some concerns of local citizens regarding traffic and land use.

The new site is atop the current airfield, which sees light use by civilian aircraft. The Army says it has no plans to use the airfield and that it isn’t long enough for any use it would have anyway.

Airborne soldiers from SETAF will continue to use Aviano Air Base — about 90 miles away — as a departure point for training and deployments. A handful of multimillion dollar projects are under way at Aviano designed to accommodate that.

The Army said the airfield was offered for use by U.S. forces because it is the closest property owned by the Italian military to Caserma Ederle, which has housed troops for more than 50 years. It is little used by the Italian military — which, like its U.S. counterpart, has been consolidating bases in recent years.

U.S. forces, most notably Air Force elements in a NATO operation that controlled the airspace over the Balkans, have operated at Dal Molin before, but not in the numbers proposed.

Opponents of the project have said they doubt U.S. claims that the airfield won’t be used, and also worry about increased traffic, the impact on local water sources and an enhanced terrorism threat with 2,000 additional U.S. troops in Vicenza.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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