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Congress passes stopgap spending bill to avert weekend shutdown

Published: Thursday, December 07, 2017 @ 6:16 PM

            The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and the Aviation Trail Visitors Center in Dayton. A partial government shutdown in 2013 temporarily closed the historic sites. LISA POWELL / STAFF FILE PHOTO
            Lisa Powell
The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and the Aviation Trail Visitors Center in Dayton. A partial government shutdown in 2013 temporarily closed the historic sites. LISA POWELL / STAFF FILE PHOTO(Lisa Powell)

The House and Senate on Thursday passed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend and buy time for challenging talks on a wide range of unfinished business on Capitol Hill.

The measure passed on a vote of 235-193 in the House and 81-14 in the Senate, and would keep the government running through Dec. 22. The resolution was set to be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Without the stopgap, funding would have run out and a partial federal government shutdown would have ensued.

Cassie B. Barlow witnessed the consequences of a 16-day partial federal government shutdown in October 2013 when about 13,000 civil service employees at Ohio’s largest single-site employer were sent home on furlough at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“The biggest impact is a loss of trust on behalf of the employees and that’s something that is difficult to recover from,” the retired Air Force colonel and former base commander said in an interview Thursday with this news outlet. “These are people who have made a commitment to serve for 10, 20, 30, 40 years.”

The ripple effect of the shutdown stopped work in many cases throughout the base, which has major headquarters for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Air Force Research Laboratory that support the entire Air Force.

“It really is just devastating and it’s very disruptive to getting work done,” she said.

RELATED: Base workers ‘concerned;’ top senator says government won’t shut down

Congressional votes

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he “reluctantly” voted yes for the stop gap spending measure to extend funding for two weeks “on the condition that leadership is making representation that they’re close to a budget deal,” he said in an interview Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, also said he would vote for the stop gap legislation.

“Really my inclination is to vote no except that we can’t really shut the government down,” said Davidson, who expressed frustration with Senate inaction on House spending legislation.

Still, both representatives expected the temporary funding measure to pass Congress.

Turner was “not very confident” a final budget deal would be reached Dec. 22, citing uncertainty of what the Senate would do.

“If this become politics as usual, we could have a shut down,” he said.

Davidson said he was “not incredibly optimistic” a deal would be reached in two weeks with the Senate.

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‘Unfortunate mood’

Troy Tingey, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents thousands of Wright-Patterson employees, said members were concerned but expected a shutdown would be avoided.

Still, the years-long cycle of facing potential government shutdowns has taken a toll and led some to consider more stable employment outside of civil service, he said.

“The unfortunate mood is they’ve almost become immune to it so one of these days when it actually hits this time of the year, it will have a great impact on them,” he said.

The last time a shutdown hit four years ago, the Dayton region suffered economically, said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.

“The effect of a government shutdown would be acute in the Dayton region because our economy is so dependent on the federal government but there would also be detrimental ripples throughout the country and it would cost our nation’s economy significantly,” he said.

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S&P Global reported a shutdown could cost the U.S. economy $6.5 billion a week or 0.2 percent of gross domestic product growth in the fourth quarter, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Two key federal agencies in the region will not be impacted, however. The Dayton VA Medical Center and its four community clinics will stay open because the agency is funded through a two-year budget, spokesman Ted Froats said.

The U.S. Post Office, which is self-funded, will continue to deliver mail, post offices will remain open and passport applications processed, according to spokesman David G. Van Allen, an agency spokesman. Mail for federal agencies, however, will be held at processing plants until government operations resume, he said in an email.

If a shutdown had occurred, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force would close Saturday and employees would be sent home until funding was restored, said spokesman Rob Bardua. The world’s largest military aviation museum attracts about a million visitors a year.

National Park Service sites in the Dayton region temporarily closed during the last shutdown.

What will happen?

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security in Washington, D.C., has watched Washington politics for years. He said reaching a final budget deal by Dec. 22 was “a flip of the coin.”

RELATED: Air Force facing growing crisis in pilot shortage

“The main obstacles to reaching a budget deal and getting defense appropriations passed have little to do with defense,” he said in an email. “Sixty votes are needed in the Senate to reach a budget deal, which means it has to have some level of bipartisan support. The key budget issue that needs to be resolved is the level of non-defense spending, and both Democrats and Republicans are adding non-budget issues to the negotiations as well, like immigration, health care, and the border wall.”

If a shutdown happened at the Miami Valley base, where more than 27,000 employees work, military personnel and civilian employees in key jobs would report to duty, but would not be paid until the government shutdown is over, Defense Department officials said.

Among civil service workers, the determination of who would stay home and who would report to work would depend on if the activity was tax-funded or self-funded or whether an employee’s job is deemed essential for safety, the protection of human life or national security, Pentagon officials said.

Those exempted in the last shutdown at Wright-Patterson, for example, included firefighters, police officers and health care workers.

RELATED: Lack of defense budget raising concerns at Wright-Patterson

A shutdown this time would have similar results to one four years ago, said Capt. Hope Cronin, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

But even with another long-term continuing resolution, the Air Force and the Defense Department would be unable to start new programs, officials said. For the Air Force, it could reduce flying hours and postpone construction of facilities, among other impacts, she said.

“In essence, it just continues fiscal uncertainty,” Cronin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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City, federal leaders vow to work together in tainted water concern

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 4:33 PM

            Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, U.S. Rep. Mike Turne, R-Dayton, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base installation commander Col. Bradley McDonald spoke Monday at a news conference insde the Hope Hotel and Conference Center in Fairborn, giving an update about water issues near Wright-Patterson. CHUCK HAMLIN/STAFF
            Chuck Hamlin
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, U.S. Rep. Mike Turne, R-Dayton, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base installation commander Col. Bradley McDonald spoke Monday at a news conference insde the Hope Hotel and Conference Center in Fairborn, giving an update about water issues near Wright-Patterson. CHUCK HAMLIN/STAFF(Chuck Hamlin)

Federal and local leaders said Monday they will work together on concerns tainted groundwater at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could reach a city of Dayton well field.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said existing or future congressional legislation might help both the city of Dayton and the base as they deal with groundwater tainted by a firefighting foam contaminant.

“There’s a number of things on the congressional level I think we might be able to do,” Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said at a press conference at Wright-Patterson with other area leaders Monday.

Dayton Mayer Nan Whaley, who also spoke at the press conference, said as the community compiles a “to-do” list of priorities, it could ask the federal government to pay for the work.

City leaders have asked neighboring communities to urge the Air Force and Wright-Patterson to act quickly to prevent contamination of the Huffman Dam well field along the Mad River.

RELATED: Foam that tainted wells in Colorado feared in Dayton

Seven drinking water production wells were turned off last year at the well field as a precaution, officials have said. Monitoring wells detected polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS) on site, but officials said it was below a U.S. EPA threshold of 70 parts per trillion for lifetime exposure to drinking water.

Federal, state and local leaders say the water is safe to drink and the contaminant has not been found in treated water piped to consumers.

Wright-Patterson installation commander Col. Bradley McDonald, Montgomery County Commissioner Deborah Lieberman, and Dayton Development Coalition vice president Maurice McDonald joined Turner and Whaley at the press conference at the Hope Hotel and Conference Center.

“I think it’s clear that we’re all on the same page,” Whaley said. “I think that that’s a very big deal.”

RELATED: Dayton urges communities to push Wright-Patt for action on water

“The key here is that we all want to make sure that our water is safe and it is safe,” Lieberman said. “The point of this is just to make sure that continues.”

The city has dealt with its own contamination concerns at a firefighting training center at 200 McFadden. In 2016, five drinking water wells were shut down at the Tait’s Hill well field as a precaution, officials said.

The city says monitoring wells at that Mad River location detected contamination of up to 1,260 parts per trillion of PFAS, which was found in an old formula of the firefighting foam.

Ohio EPA has ordered both Wright-Patterson and the city of Dayton to take action on groundwater contamination. None of the production wells that were shut down were tested for the contaminant, according to the city.

The Dayton Development Coalition and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission will work with federal, state and local leaders on groundwater issues, authorities said Monday.

RELATED: Wright-Patt treating tainted water in contaminated drinking wells

“What we’re trying to do here is be proactive and make sure it never (is) an issue,” Whaley said. “That’s important to the future of the city and the future of the region so we can grow jobs, so we can continue to have a safe place to live, work and play.”

The city had sought nearly $1 million from the Air Force to track and test where the tainted groundwater was headed off Wright-Patterson, but the military branch said it was prohibited under federal environmental law to reimburse expenses already paid.

Once the study is completed, the mayor said she’s hopeful money to pay for expenses will follow from the federal government.

“I think that’s very doable with who is at the table,” she said.

Col. Bradley McDonald said the Air Force has replaced firefighting foam believed to have caused contamination – the last of which will be removed in hangars this June — and installed more sentinel wells to track where a tainted plume is headed, officials say.

“What we are showing on the boundary of the base is that it is safe,” he said.

Wright-Patterson officials say they have reacted with urgency to concerns over tainted groundwater despite the city of Dayton’s demands asking for faster action to prevent the potential threat of groundwater contamination reaching the Huffman Dam well field.

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But if upcoming expanded testing this summer determines a tainted groundwater plume is migrating off site, the Air Force will take additional actions, Wright-Patterson officials say

For the first time, the city detected less than 10 parts per trillion of the contaminant last November at its Ottawa water treatment plant.

Among the demands Dayton has issued to Wright-Patterson: Install additional monitoring wells along the base boundary; relocate a Mad River storm water discharge point by about 200 feet so it won’t flow past a city intake; and sharing water data so the city can plan how to respond.

Wright-Patterson has addressed tainted groundwater concerns for more than two years, from tracking possible pathways for tainted groundwater to migrate on and off base; temporarily shutting down two drinking water wells in 2016 that exceeded EPA advisory thresholds; and building a $2.7 million water treatment facility to resume pumping from those closed wells last June.

The Air Force investigation and mitigation efforts “are in full compliance” with state and federal laws, the base said in a statement.

RELATED: Top 10 water users in Dayton

PFAS contamination, at certain levels, can cause major health concerns. According to the U.S. EPA, human epidemiology and animal testing studies indicate high-level exposure to the contaminant may lead to testicular and liver cancer; changes in cholesterol; low birth weight in newborns; liver tissue damage; and effects on the immune system and thyroid.

The retardant that produces PFAS was sprayed at both Wright-Patterson and Dayton’s firefighting training center.


PREVIOUSLY: Dayton has publicly demanded Wright-Patt act more quickly to the potential risk of groundwater contamination coming from the base and threatening a city well field.

WHAT’S NEW: At a press conference Monday, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner said existing or future legislation might help defray costs to deal with the issue.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Dayton Development Coalition and Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission will work with area leaders to deal with groundwater contamination issues, authorities said.

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Dayton not included in AF request to reimburse areas for tainted water

Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 4:43 PM

            Water well field at Huffman Dam is operated by the City of Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
            Ty Greenlees
Water well field at Huffman Dam is operated by the City of Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Dayton isn’t included in an Air Force request to reimburse three communities for out of pocket costs caused by groundwater contamination that may have been caused by a firefighting foam contaminant, the service branch revealed on Friday.

The Air Force is asking congressional defense committees for money to reimburse communities near three Air National Guard bases. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is not part of the request.

Dayton had asked the Air Force last month for nearly $1 million in reimbursement costs for environmental studies prompted by concerns of tainted water migrating off the base.

RELATED: Dayton demands Wright-Patt act on groundwater concerns

In an interview this week, Undersecretary of the Air Force Matthew P. Donovan told this news outlet the service branch had asked congressional committees for funds in a future defense authorization bill to reimburse communities for costs to deal with contaminants found in firefighting foam.

“We’ll take each base and each situation as a standalone,” he said in the interview. “We don’t think that there’s a one size (fits) all that’s going to be able to do this because different communities have different concerns and, of course, different situations.”

RELATED: Air Force to ask Congress to reimburse communities for water contamination

An Air Force spokeswoman clarified the statement Friday, saying the request would apply only to specific Air National Guard bases. The Air Force did not specify where those bases are.

Talks between the Air Force and the areas near the bases were halted when the Department of Defense launched a review to determine if those communities would qualify for reimbursement under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, according to Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews.

RELATED: Wright-Patt responds to Dayton demands to act more quickly on groundwater

The Air Force has cited a federal law — known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act — that the service branch says does not give it legal authority to retroactively reimburse communities paying to remedy contamination.

In cases where data shows the Air Force caused or added to contamination problems, state or local communities can seek reimbursement agreements under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, the Air Force says.

Dayton has sought reimbursement to study, track and test tainted groundwater it believes could migrate off Wright-Patterson and threaten the nearby Huffman Dam well field along the Mad River. The city shut down seven production drinking water wells at the site last April as a precaution. It says monitoring wells on the property have detected the contaminant, but at levels below the U.S. EPA health advisory threshold.

State, city and base officials say Dayton’s water remains safe to drink and the contaminant has not been detected in the final product sent to consumers.

RELATED: Is our drinking water safe? Chemical spills alarm protectors

Wright-Patterson officials have outlined a number of actions they’ve taken that they say show they’ve reacted quickly to concerns, from expanding a network of monitoring wells to constructing a $2.7 million water treatment plant to treat base drinking water.

The base plans to expand a network of groundwater monitoring wells this summer.

Dayton faces its own contamination issues at the city’s firefighting training site, and in April 2016 it shut down five drinking water production wells near the Mad River at the Tait’s Hill well field.

RELATED: Wright-Patt treating tainted water in contaminated drinking wells

The U.S. EPA has set a health advisory threat level of 70 parts per trillion for lifetime exposure to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water. The substances have commonly been found in everyday products from cookware to food wrappers, but also in the firefighting foam.

The contamination, at certain levels, can cause major health concerns. According to the U.S. EPA, human epidemiology and animal testing studies indicate high-level exposure to the contaminant may lead to testicular and liver cancer; changes in cholesterol; low birth weight in newborns; liver tissue damage; and effects on the immune system and thyroid.

Dayton has about 200 drinking water wells tapped into the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer, a 1.5 trillion gallon reservoir that serves about three million people.

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Remembering My Lai: Dayton attorney part of Vietnam history

Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 5:00 AM

            Merle Wilberding
Merle Wilberding

Dayton attorney Merle Wilberding was a part of American history he has never forgotten.

Fifty years ago today in Quang Nang Province, a quiet hamlet in Vietnam, American soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese villagers in what became known as the My Lai massacre.

Lt. William L. Calley Jr., a platoon leader with Charlie Company, would be the only soldier convicted at court martial of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese in connection with the massacre, historical accounts show. U.S. soldiers reportedly killed as many as 500 unarmed My Lai villagers, mostly the elderly, women and children.

Wilberding was a 27-year-old Army lawyer arguing before a military appeals court in Falls Church, Va., on Dec. 4, 1972 why Calley’s court martial should stand. A courtroom sketch of Wilberding appeared on network television that day, showing widespread national interest in the case.

“That was a huge scene,” Wilberding, now 74, said Thursday, and who spent more than a year on the case. “There were all kinds of people there and it was an all-day hearing.”

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Decades later, Wilberding’s background as an Army lawyer would be put to use while he represented the local family of Maria Lauterbach, a pregnant Marine murdered in 2007 by a fellow Marine.

“In both cases, the crime was so awful that the military or Army or Department of Defense thought it should serve as a lesson that it shouldn’t happen again,” Wilberding said in a 2013 interview with the Dayton Daily News.

In the case of My Lai, the assault on the village began March 16, 1968.

Soldiers descended on the village with information Viet Cong and North Vietnamese fighters were there, Wilberding said.

“But when the helicopters landed, nobody fired back,” he said, recalling his hours of studying reports and transcripts of what happened.

“They (U.S. soldiers) were primed for a big fight and they started shooting anything that moved and then burning the hutches and eventually they chased out all the people,” he said.

Villagers were huddled on a trail and in an irrigation ditch where soldiers received orders to kill them, Wilberding said.

A handful of soldiers defied orders and refused to shoot, he said.

“My conclusion was, and still is, their common sense told them this was wrong,” Wilberding said. “You don’t shoot unarmed men, women and children who are huddled together in a ditch and to me they are the heroes in it. To me, that’s the lesson.”

The massacre didn’t emerge publicly until more than a year later when a soldier wrote to President Richard Nixon and members of Congress about the massacre and journalists broke the story.

Calley had many supporters who believed neither he nor other soldiers should face prosecution, Wilberding said.

Calley’s court martial conviction was upheld by the Army Court of Military Review in 1973 and the U.S. Court of Military Appeals in 1974.

Sentenced to life in prison, the soldier’s sentence was eventually reduced to 10 years. He served three years under house arrest before his release.

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In 2009, he spoke publicly about the massacre to a Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Ga.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” Calley said, according to an account of the meeting reported by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

He said his mistake had been following orders, which was his defense when he was tried.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Memphis Belle towed into Air Force museum for first time

Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2018 @ 4:26 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2018 @ 6:34 PM

WATCH: Memphis Belle rolls into Air Force Museum following restoration

UPDATE @ 6:35 p.m.: The historic bomber has been successfully moved to its new home inside the Word War II gallery.


The World War II B-17 bomber Memphis Belle, which arrived in pieces and sat for years in a restoration hangar at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, will be moved Wednesday evening to its display location.

The iconic bomber will be unveiled in May next to a new strategic bombing exhibit inside the World War II gallery.

PHOTOS: Check out a photo gallery of the Memphis Belle

A curator said the four-engine bomber with the famous nose art of two women will be displayed in a “very dramatic and impressive” way at the world’s largest military aviation museum, but won’t say exactly what that means.

“It will be displayed like we’ve never done before and visitors will be able to get close to the aircraft,” curator Jeff Duford said Wednesday, and the plane will be surrounded by Belle crewmen’s artifacts, from “funny” metal decorations to the radio operator’s boots. 

The Belle will be kept under a tarp until its debut May 17, the 75th anniversary of the plane’s final mission against Nazi Germany to become the first Army Air Forces heavy bomber to fly 25 combat missions over war ravaged Europe and return to the United States.

The airplane grew to fame in two movies and a nationwide whirlwind war bonds tour after reaching the wartime milestone in May 1943.

RELATED: New flight controls added to B-17 Memphis Belle

“The story that’s attached to it, its fame, it’s unique,” Duford said. “There is no other heavy bomber airplane that represents the more than 30,000 (airmen) who died in heavy bombers in the fight against Germany. It is a national treasure.”

Since arriving from Tennessee in 2005, the plane has stood inside an old restoration hangar.

The Memphis Belle will replace the B-17 “Shoo Shoo Baby,” which was to be pulled out Wednesday and will eventually head to the National Air And Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Casey Simmons, a museum aircraft restorer, labored with others for years in painstaking detail to get everything right on the reborn Belle, from remaking unseen aircraft parts to detailed nose art repainted by hand.

RELATED: Memphis Belle earns its wings again 

“Working on the airplane, you get so close to it, it’s kind of just like you’re working on another airplane,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like the Memphis Belle. But it’s when you go home and you start thinking about what you did that it actually hits you that, wow, this is pretty monumental and amazing.”

Two B-17Gs will fly over the Miami Valley and about 130 re-enactors will appear at the museum during the commemoration of the Belle and World War II set for May 17-19.

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