BELLEVILLE — Scott Air Force Base's future is bright, "but that doesn't mean we can let our guard down," U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart told a group of civic leaders Monday morning.
What's helping protect Scott's future is MidAmerica St. Louis Airport next door, whose existence -- despite media criticism assailing its chronic financial losses -- has "built a buffer zone around that Air Force base," Enyart said.
Enyart, D-Belleville, a retired two-star Army general and former commander of the Illinois National Guard, spoke at the monthly Issues and Eggs breakfast series sponsored by the Belleville Chamber of Commerce.
Enyart reminded the audience that the current Defense Authorization Bill has precluded another Base Re-alignment and Closure Commission for at least two years. The absence of a BRAC means the future of Scott is safe until at least 2015.
The congressman also noted that his seat on the House Armed Services Committee has enabled him to understand the importance of MidAmerica Airport to Scott's future.
MidAmerica's extra-long runways were instrumental in bringing the 126th Air National Guard Refueling Wing to Scott.
"That's 1,000 jobs at Scott, 400 of them fulltime," he said.
More importantly, he said, "Those runways kept a $3 billion-a-year economic engine here."
Enyart also cited the importance of agriculture to the 12th District, briefly touching on the recent defeat of the House version of a new farm bill that would have ended direct crop subsidies.
Enyart said he will help guide the Senate version of a farm bill through the House, while he has also introduced a measure to tap into an $800 million federal mine reclamation fund to provide healthcare benefits to miners who work for the bankrupt Patriot Coal Co. in St. Louis. The coal company has threatened to slash healthcare and pension benefits for active and retired workers.
Enyart's proposal would "fulfill the contractual obligations that were guaranteed," he said.