During a visit to the Methow Valley on Tuesday (Oct. 9), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) assured local officials that he will continue working to keep the North Cascades Smokejumper Base (NCSB) at its historic home.
Newhouse met with members of the NCSB Working Group and U.S. Forest Service officials to hear an update on improvements needed at the 78-year-old smokejumper base, which is operated by the Forest Service at the Methow Valley State Airport between Twisp and Winthrop.
A 2017 study by the Forest Service examined whether it made economic sense to move smokejumping operations to another location in Washington. The study found that as much as $5.2 million is needed for new construction and renovations at the base, known as “the birthplace of smokejumping.”
While the base holds an important place in the history of the Methow Valley, Newhouse said he considers its strategic value in firefighting operations in Washington to be the principal reason for keeping NCSB in the Methow Valley.
“Strategically I’ve not seen anything that makes sense to have it anywhere else,” Newhouse said during the meeting at TwispWorks.
Rob Allen, fire management officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said consultants are in the process of evaluating three plans for improvements at the base, and hope to have a final proposal with cost estimates by January. He said about $500,000 has been spent on analysis and planning up to now.
Earlier this year the regional Forest Service office in Portland said NCSB is its top priority for aviation program funding, and that still appears to be the case, Allen said. “In every conversation I’ve had with the regional office we’re their priority project,” he said.
That agency support “is key,” Newhouse said. “It’s helpful for sure if we have everyone thinking the same way.”
A primary issue that must be addressed at the base is moving four old buildings that are too close to the airport taxiway and runway, in violation of Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations. The Forest Service study of NCSB found that three buildings, including a large loft where parachutes are sewn and stored, must be moved out of an “object free zone.” The Forest Service has since been informed that a fourth building – a large metal warehouse – must also be moved, Allen said.
Plans currently under consideration include repurposing existing buildings, constructing a new building, or a combination of those approaches, Allen said. Once a plan is selected and costs are determined, an appropriation from Congress would be sought, with the project likely to be completed in phases, he said.
“In the next appropriation cycle we could phase in funding,” Newhouse said. “It would be up to me – to all of you – to make the case.”
Tuesday’s meeting included Okanogan County commissioners, Twisp and Winthrop mayors, chamber of commerce representatives, NCSB representatives, TwispWorks officials, Forest Service officials and Newhouse staff members.