Sen. Durbin says $300 million in new investments keep Scott AFB safe from base closures

By JOSEPH BUSTOS | Belleville News-Democrat | Published: October 11, 2019

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said he isn’t worried about a base closure coming to Scott Air Force Base, especially as the federal government prepares to invest nearly $300 million into the base.

Durbin made the comments Friday during a visit to Scott to hear about base operations.

“There’s a dramatic commitment being made to new construction at Scott Air Force Base,” Durbin said. “It will be in the area of $300 million of new construction over the next five years. It’s significant. It tells us a couple of things: Scott Air Force Base is No. 1 in the nation. I want it to continue to be. The investment by the Air Force and the Department of Defense in this place tells us they are counting on it for many decades and generations to come.”

Planned projects at the base include a $100 million for a joint operations mission planning center, $41 million for a consolidated communication facility, $3 million for demolition of old lodging, $6.5 million for conversion of the Huyser House from lodging to office/mission planning space, and $14 million for HVAC and fire suppression improvements, Senior Master Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher said.

An additional $140 million in other renovations have been proposed as well, Doscher said.

Durbin said he thinks days of Scott being possibly on a base closure list are gone.

“It isn’t a question that this base is uncertain as to its future. I think their mission and professionalism of the thousands really make a difference,” Durbin said. “This has become a major part of our national defense picture. I’m never going to close my eyes to the possibilities, but I think we’re building to a strong future.”

The work at the base comes as President Donald Trump diverted money from military construction to build a southern border wall. However, Illinois has been spared.

“I could tell you we were lucky. The president has raided a lot of Department Defense spending in areas of security and readiness to build his almighty wall, and I think it’s just plain wrong,” Durbin said. “We were asked by his administration to appropriate money for our national defense and for our military families and the president took the money to build this wall on the southern border.

“And it isn’t as if he’s building it tomorrow. He’s been authorized to build some 600 miles and they’ve done 65 miles so far. This is just creeping along. He’s taking all of this money out of these defense accounts. We have not been touched in Illinois yet. I can tell you Senator Duckworth and I are keeping a close eye on it.”

A $41 million communications facility expansion project at Scott Air Force Base was initially on a list to be possibly delayed. However, a later list didn’t include any project at Scott.

During a recent interview with the Belleville News-Democrat, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, also discussed Scott construction.

“It is always my job to fight for my constituents and Scott Air Force Base is my largest employer. If I hear anything like that, my staff and myself have been actively making sure that things are out there, “ Bost said. “They’re moving forward with different shifts around. He’s not the only president who’s ever shifted money around to do certain things that were on the agenda of the president.”

Bost said he has good connections to the White House through his liaison.

“The president doesn’t call me and ask me how I feel about so many issues. But it is our job, if an issue comes up that affects our district, to speak quickly,” Bost said.

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