SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Republican senators urged the Defense Department on Wednesday to reject shifting money away from military construction projects in the state to build President Donald Trump's border wall.
Sen. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney expressed "significant concerns" about diverting funds from "critical" military projects in Utah as a result of Trump's national emergency declaration, "which we believe would undermine military capabilities that are essential to our national security strategy."
"We urge you not to move forward with proposed Utah delays," they wrote in a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Both Lee and Romney voted last month to block Trump's emergency declaration, though they both say they support building a barrier on the border. On the House side, Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams was the only Utah member who voted to disapprove the declaration.
More than $129 million in construction associated with Hill Air Force Base is on a Pentagon list of projects that could be delayed in order to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico.
Lee and Romney asked for an "immediate" briefing on any decision made to divert money from those projects.
The Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center, which provides real-time air and ground monitoring and test functions for the nation'snewest aircraft, is on the list.
The mission control center is housed in two decaying 74-year-old converted warehouses, and its air traffic control and monitoring equipment is nearly obsolete, "which is why it was selected to receive military construction funds in the first place," Lee and Romney wrote.
"Diverting funds from this necessary upgrade will have a severe and unacceptable impact on our military readiness, at a time when the U.S. faces increased threats around the world," according to the senators' letter.
The center's shortcomings have already resulted in shutdowns during routine maintenance and software upgrades. Exercises at the test and training range, including weapons systems testing and fighter pilot training, are often delayed or even canceled due to system workarounds, they wrote.
Lee and Romney said that without the new control center, the test and training range would be unable to support modern weapons system testing that ensures pilot proficiency.
"The (control center) is critical to maintaining fighter pilot combat readiness, sustaining 5th generation aircraft, and preparing our Air Force to face any threat against the United States," they wrote.
The Pentagon last month identified 400 projects, totalling $13 billion, which could be shelved to free up $3.6 billion sought under Trump's emergency declaration.
Other projects on the list tied to Hill AFB are:
• $55 million for a "D5 Missile Motor Receipt/Storage Fac."
• $28 million for a Utah Test and Training Range "Consolidated Mission Control Center."
• $26 million for a "Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Fac."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who sits on the Armed Services Committee and in whose district Hill Air Force Base is located, released a statement last Friday blaming the Senate for putting the projects at Hill and around the world in jeopardy of delay.35 comments on this story
Majorities in the House and Senate had agreed in December to fund the government and border security, but the possibility of a filibuster by Democrats in the Senate stalled the measures, he said.
"Due to the looming filibuster threat and new leadership in the House, the bill wasn’t reintroduced in January," Bishop said, contributing to 35-day government shutdown over funding Trump's border wall.
Sixteen states have filed a lawsuit challenging Trump's national emergency declaration. Utah is not among them.