VICENZA, Italy — U.S. plans to base the bulk of the 173rd Airborne Brigade at an Italian airfield have received final approval from a joint civilian and military commission. In the process, that airfield might no longer exist.

The comipar (regional committee) of Veneto sent a favorable opinion of a site plan to the country’s Defense Ministry last week. That plan involves the use of the western part of the Dal Molin airfield, instead of the east as originally proposed. Part of the proposed construction site includes the existing airfield — so if any fixed-wing aircraft are to land at Dal Molin, someone will need to build a new runway.

That someone won’t be the U.S., according to officials attending a news conference Monday at Caserma Ederle. The U.S. won’t be bringing military jets or cargo planes to Dal Molin.

“We do not need the airfield for aircraft,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne).

He said the U.S. decision to switch sites came as a result of local concerns and backing by the Italian government’s representative to negotiations on the project, Paolo Costa.

Costa, who also attended the news conference, said he believes that a majority of local residents support the project.

There are still vocal critics of the move. He said he believes most of them aren’t against specific details of the project, but against U.S. policies and militarism abroad.

“It proves we are a democracy,” he said. “It is good to have a minor opposition, because it makes those responsible try harder” to create a good project.

Costa said efforts by Italian authorities and the U.S. to educate the public on the project’s details have appeared to reassure many who had some doubts. The fact that the U.S. won’t be bringing aircraft to Dal Molin — as critics had charged — would ease some concerns. The new site plan also should create better traffic patterns and allow for use of more green space on the other end of the airfield.

Helmick said the U.S. is evaluating proposals submitted by contractors for the project. Those proposals will have to be tweaked some with a different site plan, although officials said the new plan contains the same facilities as the former one.

Those facilities will include offices and barracks for four battalions of the brigade that are currently stationed in Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany.

Helmick said the goal is that the U.S. will move into the facilities at the end of 2011. He said he doesn’t anticipate any issues over congressional funding for the project, which has been estimated to cost more than $200 million.

The status of bases in Bamberg and Schweinfurt — which had been placed on a base closure list — are not driving the schedule in Vicenza, he said.

“Our goal is to consolidate the unit as quickly as possible,” Helmick said.

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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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