Duluth News Tribune: Congress approves funding for new facility on 148th base
A long-awaited construction project at the Duluth Air National Guard Base neared approval on Tuesday, when the $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act was sent to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law.
The bill, approved by both houses of Congress, would provide the 148th Fighter Wing with $7.6 million to fund a new weapons load shop and classroom facility.
"We are ecstatic to learn that we are one step closer to receiving funding for a new weapons load training facility at the 148th Fighter Wing," 148th spokeswoman Capt. Jodi Grayson said in a statement to the News Tribune. "This project has been a top priority for the Minnesota National Guard for a number of years."
Previously, weapons had to be loaded onto aircraft from the tarmac outside, explained Grayson. Training in loading weapons onto aircraft was also something done specifically outdoors, as the 148th currently does not have a dedicated indoor space where crews can receive weapons training, load an aircraft and store training equipment.
"The new facility would give members of the unit the space they need to do their job in a safer, warmer environment as much of the work and training is done outdoors, at the mercy of an often harsh Duluth climate," Grayson said.
The planned 23,000-square-foot building will include a large open-bay hangar; space for training, weapons loading and storage; offices; break rooms and more, Grayson said. The new facility would double the space of the current weapons facility, which is small and not equipped to handle all of the tasks that will be featured in the new one.
Weapons loading also cannot take place in the base's hangars, Grayson said, because of safety issues related to the constant traffic of F-16 jets moving in and out of the hangars.
Once complete, the 148th Fighter Wing will be one of the premier state-of-the-art bases in the Air National Guard, Grayson said.
Minnesota's federal lawmakers all supported the construction outlay.
"This bipartisan legislation that passed Congress and now heads to the President to be signed into law will help the 148th stay on the cutting edge of weapons training and provide a new classroom facility for the Bulldogs," Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a news release issued along with Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan.
Sen. Al Franken said he was "pleased" and that "our National Guard (has) our full support."
Nolan called it "wonderful" news for Duluth and all of Minnesota.
"These National Guard construction projects will create good-paying jobs in our region and promote advanced training and cutting edge equipment," Nolan said in the news release.