FORT WORTH, Texas – Five Gulf Coast states' governors and Texas' entire congressional delegation are fighting a U.S. Air Force proposal to move eight cargo planes out of Texas that are used for post-hurricane evacuations.
The governors sent a letter to the Obama administration this week in response to proposed Air Force budget cuts, which include moving the Texas Air National Guard C-130 Hercules planes away from Fort Worth's Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in two years.
The letter — signed by governors of Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi — says the aircraft currently can be deployed within hours, but receiving the same federal help could take days if the planes are moved out of Texas.
The C-130s have carried more than 3,100 people and delivered more than 900 tons of emergency supplies along the Gulf since 2005, and were among the first into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, according to the letter. The planes also evacuated 800 hospital and nursing home patients before hurricanes Ike and Gustav made landfall in 2008.
"Moving the C-130 operations would absolutely impede disaster response to the Gulf Coast area, and it is crucial that those operations remain where they are in Fort Worth to ensure the protection of Texans and other Gulf Coast residents' lives in the face of an impending natural disaster," said Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Texas' two senators and all 32 congressional members sent a letter last month to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, saying that moving the aircraft would result in unnecessary costs to taxpayers — $80 million for military construction and about $20 million in training costs.
An Air Force spokeswoman referred questions to the Air National Guard on Wednesday. Guard officials wouldn't say if the planes will be moved to Montana as some governors and congressional leaders have reported. The Air National Guard will review the entire C-130 fleet to determine which aircraft will transfer to a new location and which will be retired, said spokeswoman Rose M. Richeson.
At the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, asked Donley and Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz to produce a cost-benefit analysis, if one had been done, and to provide all the costs associated with the aircraft transfer.
"We asked questions about their plan, and they can't provide reasonable explanations as to why they made their decisions," Granger told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "That makes me angry."
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Austin contributed to this report.