Crumbling runway could put 55th Wing at...

Posted at 10:01 AM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 11:01:35-05

For Offutt Air Force Base, trying to patch all the cracks and holes in the single air strip is a constant battle. Some fear the future of the 55th and its over 5-thousand employees is in jeopardy.

The 55th Wing at Offutt is the largest wing in Air Combat Command and the second largest in the Air Force but the current condition of its runway could decide if the mission stays in Bellevue.

You don't have to walk far on the 2-mile runway to see the cracks, holes and divits in the concrete.

"The runway is in pretty rough condition," said Jeff Mikesell, senior military liaison for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

The runway is over 7-decades old, with 7-decades of wear and tear.

"It's just old, it's worn out, it's beaten up so we need to start over," said Mikesell.

Mikesell says putting band-aids on Offutt's only runway just isn't doable anymore, "The amount of time, the man hours, and money devoted to keeping it that way has become so expensive that's why we have taken this step of requesting and seeing the new runway through".

But a new runway Mikesell said could cost up to $110-million dollars. The big question now is how to pay for it. The Pentagon has the purse-strings to divvy up the money out federally but some funds could come out of local taxpayer's pockets.

"This in turn will give national leadership the confidence they need to see that the locals see Offutt AFB as the jewel of the Air Force that it is," said Mikesell.

Bellevue state senator Sue Crawford said other Air Force Bases are looking for ways they may attract new missions, like the 55th Wing if the runway is not fixed, "It is critical that we're very attentive to making sure that we have the best facilities that we have to make sure that it's a strong case to stay in Nebraska.

Such as making sure the runway isn't on a floodplain which took $25 million dollars to shore up the levys.

"Offutt has always been here it's our jobs to ensure that it stays here," said Mikesell.

Offutt Air Force Base provides $1.35 billion dollars to the local economy and 10,000 jobs, more than half of those strictly from the 55th Wing.

Our leaders in Washington are also watching the runway situation closely.

Congressman Brad Ashford said, "Clearly, the runway’s reconstruction is a top priority and must be fixed. The Bipartisan Budget Agreement that was passed in October included increased funding for both defense and nondefense projects. As I work alongside other members of the Nebraska delegation seeking a bipartisan solution, I am optimistic the Offutt repairs project will be funded."

In a statement Senator Deb Fischer said, “Upgrading the runway is a top priority. I am working closely with my staff, state and local leaders, the base, and Air Force officials in support of the project and the 55th's mission. With the current limits on defense spending dramatically restricting investments in facilities, this will require the combined efforts of the community and Congress to accomplish.”