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A dramatic photo from the 1993 flood shows a Missouri Air National Guard plane partially submerged at Rosecrans Memorial Airport. Water reaches all the way up to the engine propellers.

The flood was more than an immediate disaster demanding an all-hands-on-deck recovery effort. It sparked deep concern about the long-term future of a military base that’s not only a key aspect of St. Joseph’s identity, it’s an essential element to the local economy.

Today, the Air Guard is one of St. Joseph’s five-largest employers, with a workforce that exceeds 1,000. The 139th Airlift Wing’s annual report from 2019 reveals a total economic impact of $210 million, including $62 million in payroll and $12 million in construction and capital investment.

Since 1993, the guard has started executing a master plan to move base facilities to less flood-prone areas north of the current civilian facilities at Rosecrans. The scale of the plan, along with the layers of bureaucracy involved, means this important project appeared at time to move at the pace of one of those C-130s in the sky above St. Joseph.

Slow at first, but then look at it go.

This north campus already includes a new security building, the 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron headquarters, a fire station and an emergency medical services building. A communications building is under construction.

Now, a new lease agreement between the city and the U.S. government will allow the 139th Airlift Wing to continue developing military facilities on the northeastern airfield property. It’s difficult to overemphasize the important of this lease, which covers 240 acres of property for a 50-year period.

The agreement, scheduled for a City Council vote Monday, brings value to the city that greatly exceeds the $1 in annual lease revenue. This lease represents a major step forward in solidifying the future of the Air National Guard in St. Joseph, including the 139th Airlift Wing, the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center and supporting units. It reduces the flood risk to infrastructure and thereby creates more confidence for investment in future years.

It also allows private developers the move into property that the guard vacates in the southern part of the airport, fueling more economic development.

Already, city documents show that approval of the lease will propel construction of a new parking apron and hangar facility for the 139th Airlift Wing, giving those C-130s a place to park.

An image of a submerged plane is part of St. Joseph’s history, but it needs to remain just that. The base must remain a growing, stable and secure part of St. Joseph and an asset to the U.S. armed forced.

This lease agreement makes sure that happens.