Meehan Wants FAA To Consider Former Willow Grove Base

Bucks County Courier Times

Congressman Pat Meehan is pressing the Federal Aviation Administration to include Pennsylvania properties in its search for a site to build a new air traffic control facility.

At a hearing in Washington on Wednesday, Meehan specifically questioned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta about the viability of the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base for the $220 million project.

“Are you familiar with the Willow Grove Naval Air Station?,” Meehan, R-7, asked Huerta during the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing.

“I am not,” Huerta replied.

“Is it something that you can get yourself familiar with?” Meehan said.

Before the end of the six-minute back-and-forth Huerta agreed “you have my commitment to certainly look at the site.”

The congressman was frustrated with a “Request For Information” the agency put out as it seeks a site for its $2.3 billion modernization plan to consolidate 49 aging air-traffic facilities in the Northeast down to four within a decade.

For one, the RFI targets New York, within 150 miles of Manhattan, as the home of the installation. Two, it is looking to purchase property rather than use land already owned by the federal government.

Meehan, who had listened as Huerta spoke about the FAA’s financial problems and challenges presented by the looming sequester, said he couldn’t get a satisfactory answer as to why the RFI was written in such a way.

“We have an administrator sitting before me claiming he was going to be negatively impacted because of budget issues and then incapable of defending a decision to potentially spend huge sums of taxpayer dollars for private property to build a facility when excess government property is available,” Meehan said in a telephone interview Thursday.

He said “there’s no justification” for the RFI creating a preference for the facility to be in the state of New York. “That’s completely inconsistent with doing the consolidation to conserve money.”

Last July, The Associated Press reported the FAA had chosen New York for an “integrated control facility” to serve the busy New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

During the hearing, Huerta said “the principal factor” in keeping the site in New York is to “minimize the impact” on existing employees currently based on Long Island.

Utility costs and access to the facility are also considerations. “If it’s well located. Are we able to reach it? It’s a wide variety of traditional location factors that any business would consider,” Huerta said.

Meehan said he’s uncertain if the base “is a proper candidate for that facility for sure. I certainly intend to ask whether it could be, and if so it has every right to be fully considered on its merits.”

He plans to ask local officials if they would like to see the base considered for such a project, and if so “hold the feet of FAA to the fire.”

“It’s very frustrating that at a time when we are dealing with out-of-control spending in Washington to hear the presentation of this issue, which certainly suggests a more cost-beneficial resolution could be reached rather than what has been suggested.”

State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, who represents the area where the base is located, called the idea of an air traffic control center “an interesting proposal” and praised Meehan for “looking out for jobs for our area. We have a lot of outstanding questions and we look forward to receiving the details.”

Last month, Pennsylvania’s two senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, and nine House members, including Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, signed their names to a letter to Huerta urging the consideration of properties in the eastern part of the state.

Willow Grove fits the criterion outlined by the FAA — between 34 and 49 acres within 150 miles of New York City, suitable for 250,000 square feet of buildings and parking for 800 employees.

Fitzpatrick called the base “an outstanding site, close to major road and transportation infrastructure” like Route 611 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. “There’s easy access to a well-developed community with a well-educated work force and a very good quality of life.”

The letter stated, “It seems unfortunate that your agency is taking viable options like those in Pennsylvania off the table given that the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General has noted that past FAA consolidation efforts have not produced the cost savings initially anticipated.”

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