Residents' group questions basing new jet training squadrons at MCAS Beaufort

Local business and governmental leaders say the arrival ofthe military's next-generation fighter jet at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will bring better-paying jobs to the area and help protect the base from closure.

A group of more than 40 Beaufort-area residents aren't so sure.

Calling themselves "Best 4 Beaufort," the group met Thursday night at the Pleasant Point Clubhouse on Lady's Island to recruit new members and discuss their opposition to the proposed basing of Joint Strike Fighter squadrons at the air station.

The Navy released a report in June detailing how 13 new JSF squadrons would be divided between MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point, N.C.

The report's preferred alternative recommended housing three active-duty squadrons and two pilot training squadrons at MCAS Beaufort.

The remaining active-duty squadrons would be assigned to Cherry Point, according to the report.

Area business leaders and politicians have endorsed the preferred alternative.

The residents' group claims another option that would bring eight active-duty squadrons to MCAS Beaufort would be better for the air station and those living near the base.

"I don't want the training squadrons," said Robert Pollard of Lady's Island. "I think we will have to accept some of the (active-duty squadrons). I don't think we can be against the (Joint Strike Fighter) but the community leaders are not supporting the residents."

Under that alternative supported by the group, the annual number of takeoffs and landings at the air station would increase from about 55,000 to about 59,000. Additionally, 667 more Marines would be stationed at the base.

The Navy's preferred alternative nearly doubles the annual number of takeoffs and landings at the air station from 55,000 to 99,880 because the two pilot training squadrons fly more frequently.

The base's military workforce would decrease by 294 under the preferred alternative.

The report does not predict how the arrival of the JSF squadrons would affect the air station's 580 civilian workers.

The residents' group says it hopes to persuade local leaders and other residents to support the alternative before the Navy makes its final decision in December.

"We love the Marine Corps, and we love the United States military," said Jim Rowe of Lady's Island. "This isn't about that. We live in a very special place, and this place is being threatened ... by a lack of knowledge and a lack of information. We are just seeking the truth about the proposed basing ... in our backyard."