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LOCKPORT – Niagara County legislators announced Wednesday that the county has chosen a high-powered Washington consulting firm to help them stave off any closure threat against the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

The Principi Group will work on a 120-day project to suggest new missions and equipment for the base, and county leaders said the firm’s personnel are well-positioned to know what might impress any federal panel considering shutdowns.

That’s because the head of the Principi Group is Anthony J. Principi, who served as secretary of veterans affairs under President George W. Bush.

He was also chairman of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which decided to keep the Niagara Falls base open.

Principi’s consulting firm also includes two other members of the 2005 commission and five people who worked on the staff.

“They have some excellent people on their board of directors, significant people,” said Merrell A. Lane, chairman of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, the local civilian group that supports the base.

County Public Information Officer Christian W. Peck said the Principi Group will be paid between $90,000 and $100,000 for its work. The money will come from a $300,000 state military base retention grant the county received earlier this year.

The County Legislature authorized selection of a consulting firm in February and does not have to vote again, Peck said.

“This is a very serious effort on our part to protect our base and local workers,” Legislator Kathryn L. Lance, R-Wheatfield, said in a statement. The air base is the county’s largest employer.

“This is an economic issue, but it’s really about protecting families – the families of 3,000 of our neighbors,” Lance said. “The air base is our top employer, a fact that has to guide this process moving forward.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com