We continue to support the Navy's proposal for the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort when the next generation of fighter jets are assigned.
The Navy's final environmental impact statement released Tuesday maintains its earlier proposal for the air station to play a key role in the nation's defense well into the future.
Under the plan, three active-duty squadrons and two training squadrons would be based at the air station when the F-35B fighter jets replace the F-18 hornets now flown here. A final decision is expected in December.
This would represent a positive commitment to Beaufort County's economic future. It also would represent a commitment by residents to accommodate what promises to be an increased "sound of freedom." The air station would receive 88 of the new jets, and with two training squadrons, the annual takeoffs and landings at the air station would nearly double, going from 55,000 to 99,800.
The training portion of the proposal has drawn some protest here. And it's interesting to note that the North Carolina political and economic contingent -- while claiming that the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is superior -- wants everything assigned there except the training squadrons.
But we accept that training Marines and Naval pilots is important here -- important enough to live with increased flights. The personnel and activities at the air station are a cherished part of the local culture and an irreplaceable part of the local economy.
We see the air station as an important part of life in Beaufort County and training pilots is part of that. It's part of what everyone bought into when they bought into Beaufort County.
We want the air station to remain a strong player in the ever-changing military and political landscape. The best way to assure the air station's long-term usefulness is to accommodate the needs of the military. Where the squadrons are stationed should be a matter first and foremost of what is best for the nation's defense. Assuming that is what the Navy proposes, Beaufort County would be fortunate to play a role in it.