TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE — After a tour of this hurricane-ravaged base on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio said he has found a “catastrophic” situation that could threaten long-term future operations, including the deployment of three F-35 joint strike fighter squadrons in 2023.
And it is not the ongoing federal shutdown that is holding up $400 million in proposed disaster relief for Tyndall, Florida’s senior senator added.
Efforts to repair and rebuild the base’s housing — particularly more than 600 single-family dwellings — are paralyzed because of a dispute between a private contractor that manages the housing and one of the company’s major creditors, Rubio said. Balfour Beatty Communities, one of the nation’s largest residential housing managers with more than 50,000 units in its portfolio, developed Tyndall’s single-family housing under a lease from the Air Force.
“My understanding is that this company owes a bunch of money to a creditor,” Rubio said. “The creditor is not allowing insurance proceeds from the (Hurricane Michael) destruction to flow to the company for repairs, and the result is that no work is being done right now.” He called the situation “catastrophic” in the long term if no solution is quickly found.
Attempts by The News Herald to reach a spokesman for Balfour Beatty were unsuccessful.
Rubio said a top priority when he returns to his Capitol office this week will be to press the Air Force to take action to break the logjam.
“I believe (Balfour Beatty) has to be in breach of this agreement,” he said, “and the Air Force should be allowed to go out and find someone else to come in and take over the project.”
Earlier this week at a legislative meeting, Rep. Neal Dunn said the housing situation at Tyndall is “bizarre” with the privatized single-family dwellings, which is “almost unique” within the military.
“I would have difficulty addressing those particular homes (in legislation) because they are private,” Dunn said. “We don’t know where that is going.”
Dunn did not comment at the time on the issue of insurance, and has been active in securing money for other parts of the base.
As for disaster funding relief for Tyndall, Rubio said he and others in the Florida congressional delegation have succeeded in inserting funds in both the rival Republican and Democratic funding bills that are scheduled for a vote today. The Republican measure contains $400 million earmarked for reconstruction at Tyndall, and the Democratic version is even higher, he said.
“I am pretty confident that whatever bill passes to end the government shutdown will include funding that includes the Air Force’s request,” Rubio said. Conceding that neither bill is expected to garner enough votes to become law in today’s vote, Rubio said he remains confident that a compromise ultimately will emerge.
“I am optimistic that we will eventually end the shutdown, and very optimistic that the bill ... will have disaster funding in it,” Rubio said. “I am not optimistic that it will occur in the next 72 hours ... but eventually, this will have to break; it is not sustainable.”