The Navy is advancing plans to expand a Georgia bombing range owned by Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, a move base officials say will help its pilots train closer to home.
The Navy released an environmental report last month examining plans to expand Townsend Bombing Range, which covers 5,183 acres in McIntosh County. It is maintained by the Georgia Air National Guard.
Air station officials will host meetings Aug. 7 and 9 in nearby Ludowici and Darien to gather public comments on the report.
The Navy could purchase as many as three parcels near the range identified as possible expansion sites. If approved, the range could grow by 11,000 to 35,000 acres, according to the report.
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The Navy also could opt not to expand the range, which opened in 1981.
The report recommended the acquisition of two parcels that would add more than 28,000 acres.
The report did not specify the price of the land but said acquiring it would result in the loss of about $35,000 a year in property tax revenue in McIntosh County and about $131,000 a year in nearby Long County.
McIntosh County officials have said they expect little, if any, local opposition to the Navy's plans to purchase the property, most of which is owned by timber companies.
At its current size, the range allows air crews to complete only 43 percent of their training requirements and is too small for pilots to drop inert, precision-guided munitions, according to Corps officials.
If the range is expanded by 28,000 acres, pilots could complete 85 percent of their training requirements at Townsend, about a 15-minute flight from MCAS Beaufort, the report said. Now, air station pilots and entire F-18 Hornet squadrons are sent for several months to MCAS Yuma, Ariz., or MCAS Miramar, Calif., at a cost of $150,000 to $350,000 per trip to complete their training, according to Corps officials.
"The proposed expansion of the range will allow the (Marine Corps) to more efficiently meet current training requirements by significantly increasing the air-to-ground training capabilities in the Beaufort (area)," said Capt. Jordan Cochran, air station spokesman.
The public-comment period on the report will end Aug. 27, according to the Navy. A final decision will be made next summer.