Keep dialogue going on air station changes

A town-hall style meeting would help as the public and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort brace for its new jets, new mission.

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 1, 2014 

The Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort needs to continue talking with the public about impacts of the coming F-35B fighter jets. A public meeting held on March 20 gave individuals a chance to ask questions about the air station's new Air Installations Compatible Use Zones planning map. That is good, but the forum did not include a presentation to the overall group, or a question-and-answer session for all to hear. Also missing was any new information on the noise of the F-35B. The vertical landing and short takeoff functions of this variant of the Joint Strike Fighter make it different from others, and noise studies to include that difference have not been released. That information, and a town-hall type meeting with public give-and-take, should be included in coming months as the air station and community prepare for the arrival of the new fighters this fall. Copies of the new planning map were available to the estimated crowd of 150 who attended the meeting held at the National Guard Armory. Information on the map includes the estimated increase in operations at the air station as it evolves into the home to two training squadrons. The increase is sharp â€" rising from a 10-year annual average of 35,315 total aircraft operations to a projected 99,881 annual F-35B operations, with an additional 6,149 transient operations for a total of 106,030. It is expected to take a number of years to reach the maximum projections. At the March 20 event, the public got a good overview of what to expect. Five tables were set up to cover various topics, including noise, operations and safety. The public got a chance to ask an air station representative at each table anything they wanted. Airfield and tower hours of operation were distributed â€" showing only two hours of operation on Sundays, none on Saturdays or federal holidays and a 6 p.m. close on Fridays. Also, it was said that only about 1 percent of operations would take place between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The maps given to the public show in minute detail the projected noise and accident potential zones around the air station. The new maps drive home how crucial it is for local jurisdictions to prevent encroachment on the air station. The new map is not a mandate to county and municipal governments, but it must be used by them to restrict development from areas where complaints are most probable. That in turn will help protect the long-term viability of the air station. The installation's presence has been important to Beaufort since it was first used by the military in 1943, and was designated a Marine Corps air station in 1961. Its workforce impact is measured in thousands of jobs, and its annual economic impact is measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. Open dialogue should continue as both the air station and the public brace for the coming changes.

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