Beaufort News

Beaufort Air Station still in line to get five fighter squadrons

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort may lose 66 fewer Marines than originally anticipated when the military's newest fighter jet lands in the Lowcountry, according to a Navy report released Tuesday.

The Navy's final environmental impact statement deviated little from a draft released in May, recommending that MCAS Beaufort receive both Joint Strike Fighter pilot training squadrons and three active-duty squadrons. MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., would receive eight active-duty squadrons. If approved, MCAS Beaufort would receive 88 jets, each of which is worth up to $90 million. The jets will replace F-18 Hornets now flown at the air station.

The Navy's preferred option is among four possibilities the report lists to divide the squadrons between the two bases. It calls for 1,593 Marines at the base, including the 66 Marine pilots expected to train at the base each year. The pilots were not included in the draft report's tally. There are 1,821 Marines at the air station now.

Neither report addresses how many civilian employees would be required at the air station.

Carlotta Ungaro, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said local officials were pleased with the final report, but are holding their collective breath until the Navy makes a final decision in early December.

"We didn't really know what to anticipate," Ungaro said. "Until the final decision is made, we will continue to promote the message that we (support the Navy's recommendation) and encourage people to comment on the report."

The Navy is accepting public comment on the report until Nov. 22.

Not everyone was pleased with the Navy's recommendation.

"We're disappointed," said Joey Gazdak, spokesman for Best 4 Beaufort, a group of more than 180 nearby residents who oppose the Navy's preferred option. "We're not going to give up just because the Navy printed the same report again. It wasn't totally unexpected, though. We just think there are a lot of cons to this that weren't addressed before everyone jumped on a bandwagon that might not be such a great bandwagon to be on."

The group is particularly opposed to the base housing the two training squadrons, which the Navy report said would nearly double annual takeoffs and landings at the air station, from 55,000 to 99,880.