MOUNTAIN HOME - Mountain Home could see a big economic boost if a defense funding bill before Congress passes.
The National Defense Authorization Act would authorize $696 billion in funding for the nation’s defense.
Congressman Mike Simpson amended the bill to include provisions to help Idaho.
The bill includes a provision that will streamline transferring ownership of an unused rail spur from the Air Force to the city of Mountain Home. Simpson said this is critical to attracting businesses to Mountain Home, which is planning an industrial park.
"I am very pleased that my amendment was adopted, and I am excited to see the rail conveyance create economic opportunities in the region," Simpson said in a statement. "There is great potential for this conveyance to strengthen and diversify the economy for both Mountain Home and the State of Idaho.
"I am also pleased that this conveyance provides a great partnering opportunity for the city of Mountain Home and Mountain Home Air Force Base. It's a win-win for the city and the base."
"Every year we lose out on about six to nine potential businesses or industries because we don't have the rail, and that's their number one requirement is rail," Mountain Home Mayor Rich Sykes said.
Sykes said he and previous mayors have been trying to acquire the railroad for decades. He said the Air Force hasn’t used it more than 20 years.
The city has been working with the Air Force to either buy the rail or get a long-term lease for it. It’s a drawn-out process, but with Simpson’s amendment it speeds up.
"We can be the central hub of everything,” Sykes said. “You can go to Seattle, Washington, Portland, Salt Lake City."
The city will use the rail to attract businesses to the planned industrial park. The idea is to create more jobs for the people who live in Mountain Home.
"That's our number-one complaint is for the Air Force spouses there's no jobs. And these jobs, you know we see there's factory worker jobs, but there's also CPAS, accountants," Sykes said.
The bill also includes a provision preventing the retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and authorizes funding for the aircraft to continue its operation. An A-10 squadron currently operates at Gowen Field in Boise.
The bill passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 344-81.
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