The Eglin F-35 Debate, Far From Over
The supplemental impact assessment just launched to address only 59 F-35s at Eglin.
August 25, 2009—The Air Force on Monday announced that it is working on the supplemental environmental impact statement that will address the beddown of 59 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters at Eglin AFB, Fla. It will also consider within this SEIS "the consequences and potential mitigations" arising from increasing that number by up to another 48 aircraft, but it will not use the SEIS as a decision tool for placing those additional aircraft at Eglin. That will come later, if at all.
USAF believes that establishing 59 JSFs at Eglin will satisfy requirements levied by BRAC 2005 to use Eglin as a joint/international schoolhouse. Even with only 59 aircraft, the plan still faces some stiff local resistance.
The plan initially was to have 107 F-35s at Eglin, but USAF found itself at odds with the community of Valparaiso, which earlier this month settled with USAF in one of two lawsuits it has lodged over the F-35 beddown. It still has one lawsuit pending, and it rejected a recent request to participate in joint land use study efforts.
Meanwhile, other states and communities are actively courting the Air Force to secure the F-35 mission for their bases. USAF expects to release its decision from the Eglin SEIS in September 2010, ample time for other states to pursue the new fighter.
According to Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, the SEIS "will take a hard look at where the maximum supportable number of F-35 aircraft may ultimately beddown on the Eglin Reservation, how they might be operated, and the degree to which other mitigation measures are possible."
As we reported earlier, the service already has imposed some flight restrictions on F-35 operations at Eglin to mitigate noise concerns. Those restrictions will remain in place throughout the SEIS evaluation process and "the Air Force has decided how best to proceed," per the Aug. 24 announcement.
The service planned to tackle its first Eglin SEIS public meeting Monday night.
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