Base’s fate may hinge on upgrades

By Eric Vodden / evodden@appealdemocrat.com

Public agencies may be called upon to play a bigger role in protecting Beale Air Force Base from future downsizing, or even closure, by providing more services to the base, officials said.

John Nicoletti, a Yuba County supervisor who also sits on the Beale Military Liaison Committee, said those services could play "a significant role" in protecting the base from expected Air Force cuts.

"Yuba County is looking to step in a little more intimately," Nicoletti said. "Whatever happens to the base outside the fence ha pens in the county first."

The call for more public agency involvement at Beale comes as the base faces issues related to outdated electrical power and wastewater treatment systems. There is also a need for upgrades to the Wheatland Gate on South Beale Road, now the base's busiest access point.

It all comes as the Air Force works to dramatically cut its budget over the next decade. The Defense Department is working to slash Air Force spending by $900 billion.

Nicoletti said the need for upgraded infrastructure is the "Achilles' heel" for Beale when it comes to consideration of what gets the ax.

Area Congressman John Garamendi, whose district includes Beale and Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, called the electrical power issue the biggest of the three issues. It is followed by the need for wastewater treatment improvements and Wheatland Gate upgrades.

"All three are critically important, but I would place them in that order," Garamendi said.

The biggest obstacle to public agencies providing services to bases is what Nicoletti called the "military labyrinth of bureaucracy" that has made public and military alliances difficult.

"It has less to do with Beale and more to do with the bureaucratic processes that have to do with the Air Force," he said.

Garamendi said language was included in the Defense Appropriations Act to better facilitate agreements between public agencies and the military.

"The law we wrote basically allows and encourages the military to enter into agreements to provide services to the base," he said. "Now we are saying maybe there is a better and cheaper way of doing it."

An early example of that is ongoing negotiations between Beale and Gridley, which provides municipal electricity to its citizens. Under a proposed agreement, the south Butte County city would replace power poles on the base and provide training at Beale for working around high-voltage lines.

Workers in Gridley's electrical division could also be asked to provide a backup mobile portable substation in emergencies.

"It's kind of a neat thing," said Daryl Dye, Gridley's electrical superintendent. "It's exciting being on the cutting edge."

Dye said no date has been set when the agreement will be considered by the City Council.

As for providing additional electricity to the base, Garamendi noted both Gridley and the Yuba County Water Agency are potential sources. The water agency is expected to take over operations at Yuba River power houses in 2016.

"All of that is being discussed heavily," he said.

Also being examined is the idea of transferring sewage from Beale's outdated wastewater plant to newer facilities run by the Linda County Water or Olivehurst Public Utility districts.

"If they can tie into Linda County or Olivehurst, both operators have the most modern systems that are available," Nicoletti said.

California Water Services, which owns and operates Marysville's water system, has been having discussions with Beale officials since 2012 on potential wastewater treatment options, local Cal Water manager Lee Seidel said. While Cal Water does not treat local wastewater, it does so in other areas.

There is also a need to improve traffic flow at the Wheatland Gate. A two-month study in 2013 found 400 more vehicles a day went through the Wheatland Gate than through the North Beale entrance, largely from base personnel who live in Placer County.

Nicoletti said Yuba County could facilitate needed improvements at the Wheatland Gate by bringing together various funding sources for an overpass to create "an unobstructed flow of traffic," he said.


Official: ‘Our mission will not fail’

By David Bitton / dbitton@appealdemocrat.com

Although having a wastewater treatment facility from the 1940s and an electrical system from the 1950s can prove challenging, Beale Air Force Base continues to fulfill its mission of providing global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the nation's decision makers.

"Our infrastructure is aging, but our mission will not fail," said Col. Stephen Hoffman, commander of the 9th Mission Support Group.

Beale's main mission is to gather intelligence while flying high-altitude missions above 70,000 feet in the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk and manned U-2.

"We are like any small community of 7,700 people," Hoffman said. "We need a reliable water treatment and electrical system."

Hoffman said the collections system, pumping system and wastewater treatment plant itself all need attention but that a long-term plan is in place to make improvements.

The base receives power from Western Area Power Administration across Pacific Gas & Electric Co. lines.

It has generators in place if there is a power outage, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said Beale is one of the first Air Force bases to take advantage of the Air Force Community Partnership Program, which allows the base to partner with local governments on projects aimed at lowering base operation costs.

The base can also contract with local agencies when emergency response is necessary, Hoffman said.

Beale is in the works to partner with Gridley, which has its own power company, to replace 10-20 aging power poles and to provide training for Beale's electrical professionals so they are well trained.

"We want to show our Air Force leadership we are working hard to use our resources as efficiently as possible," Hoffman said.

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