Air Base Transfers Dozens of Homes to Reservation

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS — Houses on Malmstrom Air Force Base that could have been demolished are instead being moved to Fort Belknap Reservation, where there is a need for housing.

A total of 32 houses have been moved so far, and 38 others are scheduled for transfer this week, The Great Falls Tribune reported on Thursday.

The Air Force decides how many houses can be on base, and the homes being moved were surplus, said Mark Coleman, real property officer for the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron and manager of the relocation program.

Relocation saves the base money that would have been spent demolishing the structures and fills a need for housing on the reservation. The tribe covers the costs of relocation and setting up the homes.

The project is organized by Walking Shield Inc., a California-based organization.

John Castillo, the group’s executive director, said the program has moved 300 homes from Malmstrom to reservations since 1998, not including the 70 houses involved in the current effort.

About 33 percent of American Indians nationwide are living in overcrowded conditions, Castillo said. There are sometimes two or three families in one home, he said.

“The Air Force saves money and they don’t have to demolish these homes or take them to a landfill. The tribe wins because they get nice homes for families that need them,” Castillo said. “We all win.”

About 3,500 people live on or near Fort Belknap Reservation in central Montana, where unemployment is reportedly as high as 70 percent.

The group has until June 1 to finish moving the homes, most of which are three-bedroom houses. There are 20 four-bedroom houses.

It costs between $8,000 and $14,000 to move a home.

Infrastructure work is under way at Fort Belknap to prepare foundations for the houses, add utility and sewer lines, and build roads, if necessary, Castillo said.

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