Input sought before new Marine Corps squadron soars

BEAUFORT -- Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort officials want to know what area residents think about the proposed arrival of the Corps' next-generation of fighter jets.

The air station will host a meeting Feb. 3 at the Holiday Inn on Boundary Seetcq to answer questions about the possibility of bringing Joint Strike Fighter squadrons to the base.

Federal law requires the Marine Corps to conduct a series of public meetings, called scoping meetings, to gather comments as it prepares its Environmental Impact Statement about the jets.

"It's really important that we know what the community's concerns are now as we're beginning this process," said Maj. James Jarvis, an air station spokean.cq "There will be a lot of time and money invested in bringing this aircraft here, so we're interested to hear what the community thinks."

Jarvis said the base will set up booths and tables in the hotel's conference room and provide a panel of experts on noise Air Installation Compatible Use Zone; and other topics. The air installation zone is a Defense Department program designed to protect the health and safety of those living and working near airports and air stations.

According to a notice published last week in the Federal Register, MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina are the proposed locations for 13 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons.

The air station currently houses seven F/A-18 Hornet squadrons, including Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86, which Jarvis said likely will leave the base when the F-35 arrives in Beaufort in 2010.

In addition to holding a scoping meeting in Beaufort on Feb. 3, base officials will conduct a pair of meetings in Georgia to get comment from the residents who live near Townsend Bombing Range.

MCAS Beaufort owns the 5,182-acre range in McIntosh County, Ga., and will hold scoping meetings in Ludowici, Ga., and Darien, Ga.

The F-35 ultimately will replace the F/A-18 Hornets now used by the Navy and Marine Corps, the average age of which is about 18 years. The Navy and Marine Corps are scheduled to receive 680 of the new jets.