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Comment sought on F-35's future in Beaufort

Marine Corps and Navy officials are seeking input from Beaufort-area residents about the proposed arrival of the Corps' $90 million fighter jet at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

The air station will host a public meeting Tuesday at the Holiday Inn on Boundary Street to answerquestions and gather public comment about the possibility of bringing Joint Strike Fighter squadrons to the base.

Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman, said information booths and tables will be set up in the hotel's conference room, and a panel of experts will be on hand to discuss subjects such as noise and the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone, or AICUZ.

"There is no better time for residents to come out and ask whatever questions they might have about the Joint Strike Fighter," McMeen said.

McMeen said officials from Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor building the fighter jet, also will bring a cockpit simulator to allow residents to experience what it's like to sit in the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35.

The meeting comes on the heels of the release last month of the Navy's draft environmental impact statement detailing how 11 operational JSF squadrons and two pilot training squadrons would be divided between MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point, N.C.

The report recommended MCAS Beaufort receive two pilot training squadrons and three-active duty squadrons. MCAS Cherry Point would receive eight active-duty squadrons. If approved, MCAS Beaufort would receive 88 new fighter jets to replace its F-18 Hornets.

Under that option, the report estimated the base would need $351.8 million in infrastructure improvements in the next five years, creating nearly 4,400 temporary construction jobs.

The annual takeoffs and landings at MCAS Beaufort also would likely increase from 55,000 to 98,000, which would expose 8,725 residents living in 2,731 homes near the base to noise levels higher than 65 decibels, the report said.

In addition to hosting Tuesday's meeting in Beaufort, base officials will conduct a meeting Thursday in Georgia to get comments from residents who live near Townsend Bombing Range, which is used by air station pilots. MCAS Beaufort owns the 5,182-acre range in McIntosh County, Ga., and will hold the meeting in nearby Ludowici, Ga.

The Navy is expected to finalize the report in November and make its final decision on where to place the new squadrons by the end of the year. The Joint Strike Fighter is expected to arrive in Beaufort in 2014 or 2015.

IF YOU GO

What: Joint Strike Fighter public meeting

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Holiday Inn on Boundary Street, Beaufort

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?

The Marine Corps is seeking public comment on the possibility of basing the Joint Strike Fighter at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Any public comment must be received by July 12 and may be submitted by filling out a comment card at public meetings this week, by e-mail at www.usmcjsfeast.com or by mail at USMC F-35B East Coast Stationing EIS, P.O. Box 56488, Jacksonville, FL 32241-6488.

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