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Analysis suggests keeping Medford Air Tanker Base operating

November 18, 2018

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Analysts say the U.S. Forest Service should keep the Medford Air Tanker Base open if other agencies help pay the $245,000 annual cost.

The Mail Tribune reports in a story on Friday that the Forest Service commissioned the independent analysis earlier this year and recently made the results public.

The air tanker base is about 55 miles (90 kilometers) from another air tanker base in Klamath Falls, and the Forest Service is considering closing one of them to save money.

About 60 percent of the retardant delivered from the Medford base is by agencies other than the Forest Service. Those agencies pay for the retardant, flight time, landing fees and other costs, but they aren’t helping to pay for maintenance of the air base.

“That’s the business model that isn’t working,” said Amanda Lucas-Rice, Southwest Oregon Interagency Unit Aviation Officer for the Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

She said talks are ongoing between the agencies about splitting up costs.

Jackson County commissioners are against closing the base, particularly after lightning-sparked fires in the region earlier this year.

“It would have been crazy in my opinion to even consider closing Medford down, and we’re extremely fortunate to have it,” Commissioner Rick Dyer said. “We would probably be in an even worse situation without it.”

Merv George, supervisor of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said he backs keeping the Medford base open.

“I will tell you that as far as I’m hanging around in this part of the country, I am going to throw my support behind keeping that base here and getting the resources that we need to make sure that it’s fully functional,” he told Jackson County commissioners recently. “Because when we’re running and gunning with all the fires, it’s really helpful to have a base close by.”

Firefighting costs have far exceeded the cost of keeping the base running. The Forest Service, according to October estimates, has spent more than $200 million in southwestern Oregon fighting fires over the last year.

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Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/

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