Renovations needed at Methow Valley facility
By Ann McCreary
Elected officials and business leaders plan to invite regional and national U.S. Forest Service officials to the Methow Valley to talk about the future of the North Cascades Smokejumper Base (NCSB) and how to find the funding needed for new construction and renovations at the base.
A Forest Service study conducted earlier this year concluded that NCSB should remain in the Methow Valley, but would need as much as $5 million to address problems at the 77-year-old base.
The study evaluated other sites to potentially relocate the base, including Wenatchee and Yakima, but determined that the current location in the Methow Valley was the best location for now. The primary factor for retaining the base at its historic location was the adverse socio-economic impact to the small communities in the Methow Valley if the base were moved. The report found that Wenatchee would be the next viable alternative, if funding for base improvements can’t be obtained.
The funding is needed to demolish three old buildings that are too close to the airport runway in violation of federal aviation regulations. A new building to replace those structures would need to be constructed, according to the Forest Service study.
A group that was formed earlier this year to advocate for keeping the base in the Methow Valley met this week to discuss how to move forward, based on the findings of the Forest Service analysis. The group in includes mayors Soo Ing-Moody of Twisp and Rick Northcott of Winthrop, Okanogan County Commissioners Andy Hover and Jim DeTro, Twisp and Winthrop Chambers of Commerce presidents Sandy Moody and David Gottula, Jessica McCarthy representing Rep. Dan Newhouse, Bill Moody, former manager of NCSB, and Hannah McIntosh of TwispWorks.
The group strategized about whom to enlist in their efforts to ensure NCSB stays in the Methow, and how to find the money that the study said would be required.
Because NCSB is operated by the U.S. Forest Service, members decided that they would need to work with regional and national leaders of the agency, and plan to invite them to the valley to discuss the process of procuring needed funding. The invitation will come from Okanogan County elected officials, and be sent to Regional Forester Jim Pena and his boss in Washington D.C., Tony Tooke, chief of the Forest Service, as well as Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Supervisor Michael Williams.
The NSCB committee will also seek support from other mayors in Okanogan County for their campaign to retain the base in the Methow Valley.
Known as the “birthplace of smokejumping” because the first experimental jumps took place at the base, NCSB is the duty station for 30 smokejumpers, according to the Forest Service analysis. The study found that equates to about 1.5 jobs per smokejumper, or about 45 total jobs.
Loss of those jobs would have a more significant impact on the economy of the Methow Valley than they would have they would for Wenatchee, the analysis concluded.
The base is located at the Methow Valley State Airport, a state-managed airport between Twisp and Winthrop. It is considered a priority airport by the state because it is widely used for emergency management purposes. That status helped the airport secure a $3.8 million federal grant in September for improvements to the runway and loading and unloading areas.