Air Force seeks $4.9 billion in emergency funds for storm-ravaged Offutt, Tyndall

Air Force seeks $4.9 billion in emergency funds for storm-ravaged Offutt, Tyndall
The Air Force says it will need nearly $5 billion in the next two years to repair Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, struck by flooding this month, and to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Z LONG/THE WORLD-HERALD

The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday it needs $350 million in emergency funds this year to cover cleanup and basic repair costs after devastating floods at Offutt Air Force Base this month and expects to seek more over the next two years to repair and replace damaged structures.

The request is part of a $4.9 billion supplemental request to Congress for repairs to Offutt and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, which suffered severe damage last fall when Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle.

“We desperately need the supplemental funding,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said, citing the damage to both bases.

The money sought by the Air Force — $1.2 billion this year and $3.7 billion in the 2020 and 2021 budget years — would have to be approved by Congress. Wilson said that if Congress does not take action by May or June, the Air Force will have to put off dozens of construction and other improvement projects and perhaps take other cost-saving measures.

None of the 61 deferred projects are at Offutt. But an information sheet published by Wilson’s office warns that all flood-related recovery work at Offutt would be halted July 1 if the emergency funds aren’t approved, except efforts to meet immediate health and safety needs. That would include efforts to assess and offset flood damage.

At Tyndall, all work would stop May 1.

Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for Wilson, said she didn’t have a detailed accounting for how the $350 million in funds for Offutt would be spent because 55th Wing engineers are still assessing the damage.

“This is just an initial planning estimate,” Stefanek said.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., told Nebraskans attending the state delegation’s weekly breakfast event on Capitol Hill that the flooding isn’t expected to slow the $130 million project to rebuild Offutt’s runway, approved by Congress last year.

The 55th Wing’s reconnaissance flight operations are scheduled to move to soon-to-be renovated facilities at the Lincoln Airport in December, though Air Force officials are studying the possibility of moving that up.

Fischer, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a team of engineers has finished a post-flood assessment of the 2-mile-long runway, about one-fourth of which was submerged when the floodwaters reached their peak March 17.

“It seems that the substructure of the runway and the taxiways are in good shape,” Fischer said. “So that is good news for Offutt. It is good news for the state of Nebraska.”

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