The assessment not only argued, like the Bureau of Indian Affairs had,that the complex wouldn't pose a threat to Fairchild's future, it doubted the accuracy andclarity of the widely-distributed PowerPoint slides opponents had relied on. It also questioned why the noise contours of the louder B-52 was used for the Joint Land Use Study, when there's "very little chance" of those planes ever being assigned to Fairchild again.
Yesterday, in a joint press conference featuring Greater Spokane Inc., andthe Spokane County Commissioners, the report came under heavy fire from thoseopponents.
To be sure, the proposed complex has some pretty powerful opponents. In thelast few months, I’ve spoken with County Commissioners Todd Mielke and AlFrench, GSI president Rick Hadley, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, City CouncilmanSteve Salvatori, and Jim McDevitt, a former Air Force pilot. All express deepconcerns — even certainty — about the complex posing a dangerto the community. (Others, like City Council President Ben Stuckart and AirwayHeights Mayor Patrick Rushing, say that’s bogus.)
I’ve reached out to Fairchild Air Force base for comment on the specificfactual issues raised, but there’s another issue looming. The tribe paid MadisonGovernment Affairs for the report, so can we trust the report?
“You can buy any analysis you want, as long as you pay for it, and you getwhat you pay for,” Hadley said the day before the press conference. Mielkeraised the same issue.
I had a similar concern, and so I asked Paul Hirsch, one of the authors ofthe report, that question over the phone Monday evening. Hirsch was the Directorof Review and Analysis for the 1991 Base Closure and Realignment Commission(BRAC). If you’re really in the mood for a fun time, you can watch him onvintage 1991 C-SPAN rightnow.
He explained that, though his firm has been a lobbying group in othermatters, it wasn’t acting as a lobbyist in this case. “We looked at itobjectively,” Hirsch said. “We did it honestly and looked at the criteriaestablished by the Air Force and the FAA.”
Then, after those concerns were raised at the joint press-conferenceyesterday, I asked him to send me, essentially, why we should trust that MadisonGovernment Affairs could be trusted in its report. He responded:
I spent 22+ years in the federal service (4 in the Air Force) working forthe Air Force, Department of State, and the BRAC Commission. I served on the1991 BRAC Commission from April 1991 to April 1993 leaving the Commission priorto DoD releasing their 1993 Recommendations. Since leaving the Commission inApril of 1993 I have worked in the private sector. I have worked on behalf ofgovernments/communities with military bases, for private sector defensecompanies, economic development commissions, and chambers of commerce. Over thepast 20 years, 16+ as President of Madison Government Affairs, I haveestablished a very solid reputation among my public & private-sectorclients, congressional members and staffs, and the executive branch (mainly themilitary). I learned the importance of a solid reputation and would not destroy40 years of hard work for a client engagement. When I was approached by theSpokane Tribe to make an assessment of STEP relative to Fairchild AFB, I toldthat my firm would accomplish an independent assessment as to whether theireconomic development project would adversely impact air operations of the base. I made it perfectly clear that if they wanted an endorsement of their projectthey would need to get another consultant. They understood that they weregetting my firm’s best effort and I was walking into the project with nopreconceived ideas relative to the project. In fact, I had never heard of STEPnor had I ever been to Fairchild AFB or Spokane.
In other words, Hirsch, one of the authors of the report, hasn’t really beenknown for representing businesses against the concerns of bases. Quite theopposite — he’s been known for preparing communities to fight against base closure. Onhis website he’s described providing “counsel and analysis to communities andlocal governments whose bases were targeted for closure by the Department ofDefense or by the Commission.”
Here’s Hirsch being interviewedas a “BRAC lobbyist” on NPR in 2005, talking about how important it is forcommunities to remind the military of how crucial the base is economically forthe region. Here, he’s quoted in 2010, raisingconcern about Defense Secretary Robert Gates trying to shut down afacility without going through the BRAC process.
The other author, retired Lt. General Carl Franklin, is an experienced Air Force commander.
Of course, that may not satisfy community concerns – especially when thestakes are so high.