Air Force hands over last piece of Plattsburgh base - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Air Force hands over last piece of Plattsburgh base

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Joe McNichols used to fly an FB-111 at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. It's on display as a reminder that the North Country once played a key role in our nation's defense.

After serving as a military base for nearly two centuries, the Air Force closed the base in 1995 as part of a restructuring plan.

"It was total disbelief," McNichols said.

It left 6,000 people looking for new jobs in the remote area.

"There was a real concern of what would happen next," said Bernie Bassett, D-Plattsburgh Town Supervisor.

Over the past 17 years, the Air Force worked to cleanup contamination at the site and slowly divide the 3,400-acre property between Clinton County, the city of Plattsburgh and the town of Plattsburgh. Wednesday, the final 732 acres were turned over to the county.

"I think this is about normal," said Kathleen Ferguson of the U.S. Air Force. "I don't think it was any quicker. I think some of the things that were done here were pretty extraordinary with some of the cleanup that occurred and some of the ingenuity and some of the technical things and fixes that had to be put into place to accomplish the environmental cleanup."

Economically, the community has rebounded. While nowhere near 6,000 jobs have been created, 60 new businesses call the old air base home. Plattsburgh International Airport, which takes up half of the old base, is rapidly expanding.

The Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation is in charge of the rebuilding process. Originally they thought it would take 30 years to restore the economy, but now say the job is almost complete.

"Ninety-seven percent of the property has either been sold or leased right now," said Gilbert Duken of PARC.

A company that is expected to help fill the void left by the former air force base is Laurentian Aerospace. The company plans to hire up to 1,000 people to service commercial jets in Plattsburgh. However, a year and a half after they were supposed to break ground, there is still no sign of the company. Laurentian officials say that's due to problems securing funding for the project.

"In the conversations I have, there continues to be some progress made. I think there is a fail-safe point if it isn't going to be finalized," Bassett said.

While McNichols' old bomber plane is showing signs of old age, he says Plattsburgh is turning over a new leaf.

"We actually have traffic jams again," he said. "It's pretty remarkable the progress we have made."

A community once again trying to takeoff.

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