Beaufort News

North Carolina revs up push to land most of F-35 squadrons

Some North Carolina politicians have stepped up their lobbying to get 11 of 13 Marine Corps Joint Strike Fighter squadrons stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

In about two months, Navy officials are expected to decide how to divide 13 F-35 squadrons between Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. A Navy report released in May recommended basing three active-duty squadrons and two pilot training squadrons at MCAS Beaufort. Eight active-duty squadrons would be assigned to MCAS Cherry Point.

Last week, a bipartisan group of five North Carolina legislators and Gov. Bev Perdue wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway to repeat a request that 11 of the 13 new squadrons -- all but the two training squadrons -- be assigned to Cherry Point.

"That's the same message they seem to have been sending all along," said Carlotta Ungaro, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. "I'm no more concerned with what they're doing now than I was when they started this in May. We're at a point where there's really nothing else we can do. I feel like we've built a solid campaign, but it's just a matter of time."

Perdue's letter said Cherry Point's "infrastructure, facilities, range capabilities and robust relationship with constituents across all counties of jurisdiction" made it the best fit for the new jet.

The letter comes on the heels of a press conference in Beaufort last week in which U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and other state and local leaders vowed to help bring the jet to Beaufort.

The F-35 would replace the F-18 Hornets now flown at the air station.

North Carolina legislators aren't the only ones dissatisfied with the Navy's preferred alternative.

Best 4 Beaufort, a group of more than 180 residents of neighborhoods near the air station, continues to try to gather public support for an option that would bring eight active-duty squadrons to MCAS Beaufort but leave out the training squadrons.

Joey Gadzak, the group's spokesman, said he can't blame North Carolina officials for not wanting the training squadrons, which the Navy report said would nearly double annual takeoffs and landings at the air station, from 55,000 to 99,880.

N.C. politicians "don't want the training squadrons any more than Best 4 Beaufort does," Gadzak said.

The Navy's decision is expected in December.