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Ft. Drum projects identified as defense authorization clears House committee

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FORT DRUM — Several projects on post could see major federal funding from the defense authorization bill that cleared a House committee.

The bill includes $95 million for an aircraft hangar for the 10th Mountain Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade; $25.9 million for a data terminal complex in conjunction with the Missile Defense Agency; and $17.3 million for a speciality care clinic to be operated through the Tricare soldier health plan.

“We’re very pleased that those were included,” said U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. “It’s a very good sign for Fort Drum both in the short term and the long term.”

The bill, which includes $554 billion in base defense spending and an additional $88 billion for military efforts in Afghanistan, was approved Thursday morning by a 56-5 vote in the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Owens was one of the 56 supporting the bill.

The funding exceeds the White House proposal of $551 billion plus $88 billion for fighting overseas.

While there was a lot of debate about cutting the size of the defense budget, Mr. Owens said, he was worried that too big a cut now could add to the cost of future conflicts.

“We’re trying to make sure we have the right balance in place ... not too much, not too little,” he said.

One of the more contentious votes during debates about the defense bill was the approval of up to $5 billion for an East Coast-based missile defense site. Fort Drum is said to be one of the sites under consideration.

The plan would call for the secretary of defense to conduct an environmental impact review of potential sites by Dec. 31, 2013, and for the site to be operational by the end of 2015. An initial analysis on feasibility and cost would be due Feb. 1, 2013.

Pentagon officials had previously called the funding unnecessary, but Republican committee members said the site would protect the East Coast from potential attacks from Iran or North Korea, despite protests that neither country has the ability to launch such an attack.

An amendment from Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif, to strike down the funding was defeated by a 33-28 vote. Mr. Owens was one of the 28 who supported stripping the funding, in part because the proposal as worded supports funding the construction of the site before a feasibility study could be started.

“How could you decide to do something before you know its cost and feasibility?” he asked. He said he would not be surprised to see that funding reduced when the Senate creates its own authorization bill.

The budget bill also:

n Precludes any potential base realignment and closure decisions for the 2013 fiscal year.

n Includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for troops.

The bill now must be approved by the full House of Representatives, before moving to the Senate.

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