Concerning questions generated by recent reporting in Diário Insular, the U.S. Embassy reiterates its enduring commitment to Lajes Air Base #4and its strong cooperation with the Portuguese government and the Azorean authorities on all issues related to Lajes. Recent articles in your publication allege that the United States is currently reducing personnel at Air Base #4 and has been negligent in addressing environmental issues in the Lajes area. The United States Embassy would like to underline that some statements reported in these articles are not correct.
The process to reduce U.S. and Portuguese staffing at the 65th Air Base Group at Air Base #4, as was agreed at the Standing Bilateral Commission (SBC) meeting in Washington in June 2015, is complete, and there are no plans for further reductions at this time. Contrary to what was reported, no involuntary separations were made to reduce the Portuguese workforce. Rather, workers choosing to end their employment received millions of dollars in severance compensation from the U.S. Government.
Environmental protection is a priority for the United States, and we will comply with applicable international agreements in doing so. The U.S. remains a transparent partner with the Portuguese and Azorean governments, with the U.S. Air Force routinely engaging experts at the Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil (LNEC) on environmental issues. Contrary to recent statements in the press, the LNEC has reported that there is no scientific basis for the allegations that drinking water is unsafe in the Praia da Vitória area.
We also continue work with the Portuguese through the SBC to address environmental issues. At the last SBC in November 2016, both the U.S. and Portugal urged accelerated environmental actions on two sites. The United States will complete a new environmental contract authorizing improved measures at these two sites this spring. The United States also will complete its review of several additional sites identified by Portugal at the October 2016 Technical Committee meeting prior to the next Technical Committee meeting provisionally planned for late March.
Additionally, in order to streamline our operations, we will soon begin work on a number of infrastructure projects at Air Base #4 that will inject approximately $9 million into Terceira’s economy. These projects will improve operational efficiency and the morale and well-being of the Airmen working on Air Base #4. Moreover, U.S. Airmen assigned to Air Base #4 will now be living off-base, which will generate additional income for the local economy.
Lajes Air Base #4, its military personnel, and its Portuguese workers have played an essential role over more than six decades to facilitate American and Portuguese operations in support of NATO and other international organizations. Efforts at Lajes have been critical to advancing our shared objectives and principles. The United States remains committed to supporting missions at Lajes Air Base #4.