FORT WORTH (AP) – A Senate panel voted Thursday to keep eight Texas Air National Guard cargo transport planes on the Gulf Coast for post-hurricane evacuations until at least 2014.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $604 billion defense spending bill that reverses proposed Pentagon cuts in Air Force personnel and equipment. The legislation provides $800 million to halt the Air Force’s planned cuts. They included moving the C-130 Hercules planes from Fort Worth’s Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base to Montana in two years.
The Gulf Coast states’ governors and Texas’ congressional delegation fought the proposal fiercely. They said responding to Gulf Coast disasters would take longer if the aircraft were in Montana.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison says the bill gives the committee time to develop a long-term plan with the Defense Department.
“This is another important step in preserving the strategic deployment of C-130s in Fort Worth, but the effort will continue,” said Hutchison, R-Texas, in a statement Thursday. “This legislation gives us time to work with the Department of Defense on a long-term plan.
Hutchison, who leaves the Senate early next year, said: “I will continue to make the case that there is no military advantage to moving these planes from their current location and that building a new facility to base them elsewhere takes funds from other vital defense need.”
The C-130s have carried more than 3,100 people and delivered more than 900 tons of emergency supplies along the Gulf since 2005, and were among the first into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, according to the letter. The planes also evacuated 800 hospital and nursing home patients before hurricanes Ike and Gustav made landfall in 2008.
The letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley — signed by governors of Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi and the 32 members of the Texas congressional delegation — said the aircraft currently can be deployed within hours, but receiving the same federal help could take days if the planes are moved out of Texas. They also said that moving the aircraft would result in unnecessary costs to taxpayers — $80 million for military construction and about $20 million in training costs.
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