Interior Alaska officials prepare for influx at Eielson

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Communities near Eielson Air Force base are ready to provide housing for Air Force personnel and their families attached to two incoming F-35 squadrons, according to municipal and business leaders.

    Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward said an analysis of the housing market and his observations of new construction give him confidence that finding homes for roughly 3,300 people will not be a problem, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported.

    Ward is the former mayor of North Pole, the city closest city to Eielson. He owns a general contracting business there.

    The Eielson Air Force Base Regional Growth Plan commissioned by the borough and published last fall concluded that 532 new housing units around North Pole would be needed by 2022 to accommodate normal growth and demand by F-35 families.

    Two squadrons of F-35, and 54 aircraft in all, have been assigned to the base about 26 miles (42 kilometers) south of Fairbanks.

    The first F-35 is scheduled to arrive in April 2020. The rest will follow over two years. A small number of personnel dedicated to the F-35s have already arrived.

    An Eielson spokeswoman, 1st Lt. Kitsana Dounglomchan, said by email that new base housing is not being built. The Air Force instead is relying on current base homes and homes in surrounding communities.

    "To build the numbers that they were talking about would've been a huge undertaking," Ward said in an interview.

    A federal government study concluded that 974 units would be needed to house F-35 personnel and their families.

    State budget cuts and a related three-year statewide recession led to vacancies, Ward said. The area also went through about 10 years of a depressed housing market, a combination of recession and discussions about shrinking Eielson or even closing the base.

    The new stability in the market has encouraged builders, Ward said.

    Contractors built 100 more homes than usual last year, Ward said. Developers from outside the area have increased activity, mostly in multi-family units, he said.

    "We exceeded the number of units that we needed to build last year in order to meet our objective and I think we're on target again for this year to be a very productive year for housing," he said.

    Jim Dodson, CEO of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., said the community will be able to absorb new residents but possibly not in the North Pole area.

    Upward of 80 percent of current Eielson personnel that live off base reside in the North Pole area.

    Borough officials are focused on making sure new homes are built to a standard that people want to live in, Ward said.

    "A lot of our efforts have been driven to address the issues of quality and efficiency and to really make sure that the market is able to address those concerns," he said.

    Quality of construction is important because many of the new active-duty personnel will be coming from warm-weather bases and they likely would not be prepared to deal with an interior Alaska winter in poorly constructed homes, Ward said.

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