Delegates return from nation's capital - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Delegates return from nation's capital

February 27, 2004

Albany-- Leaders seek help from Washington to save the Marine Base.
Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard says, "I think MCLB is a 50-50 proposition."

A delegation of Albany civic, business and military leaders just returned from a two day trip to our nation's capital. The purpose was to learn more from our Congressmen about what Southwest Georgia needs to do in order to strengthen our chances of keeping the Marine Corps Logistics Base.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission will be appointed in March 2005 and there is much to be done until then.

Strengthening MCLB is a top objective for Albany leaders. Chamber President Tim Martin says, "Of course, it is our largest employer in town, there are 3,300 positions out there. We are trying to position ourselves so it becomes 6,600 jobs."

To position MCLB for growth, instead of closure, these delegates have pinpointed several weak points, including the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. Sinyard says, "Our Marines can't get in and out of the airport, they cancel flights, they change flights, they change schedules. It is not the ASA employees fault in Albany. Somebody in some room somewhere doesn't care about this dot on the map. Well, this is our dot. We have to protect our dot."

The Albany delegates cite inflated prices, frequent cancellations and other problems with ASA, the only carrier in Albany.

Dougherty County Commission Chairman, Jeff Sinyard, wants to apply for a $750,000 dollar grant, awarded last year to Augusta, to help entice a second carrier to the airport, "If this grant doesn't work we may have to do something bigger and better than that. We may have to ask for this on the SPLOST, for our people to say we have to maintain our businesses and encourage future growth."

Besides an additional airline, the delegates say lengthening the runway at the airport is a good idea. It would not only increase flight cargo traffic, but position MCLB for future missions. Martin says, "At the end of the day as we look back on it we might be able to say that was a key component of success. Looking forward we don't have a crystal ball so we just do the best we can."

These delegates say they are doing the best they can to save MCLB from BRAC next year, and they have full congressional support behind them.

Besides improvements at the airport, the delegates see a need for improving education for Marine families. They are working toward an international program similar to ones at other Marine bases across the world. A task force is also being assembled to investigate adding new missions at MCLB--a move that would bring more jobs.

Posted at 4:33 p.m. by melissa.kill@walb.com