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May 27, 2010

Posted by allthingshavelock in MCAS Cherry Point.
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Navy prefers to base eight F-35 squadrons at Cherry Point

May 26, 2010 5:19 PM

Drew C. Wilson
Freedom ENC

HAVELOCK — Cherry Point air station would get eight squadrons of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters
under the preferred basing plan proposed by the Navy.

The Navy released its draft environmental study on the basing options for 11 operational squadrons and two fleet replacement squadrons of F-35s on Wednesday.

The F-35 is eventually scheduled to replace the current Marine Corps fleet of AV-8B Harriers, EA-6B Prowlers and F/A-18 Hornets.

Cherry Point currently has three operational Harrier squadrons, one training Harrier squadron and four squadrons of Prowlers at the base.

The Navy prefers to place the other three operational F-35 squadrons and two fleet replacement squadrons at Beaufort, S.C. That Marine Corps air base currently has seven squadrons of Hornets.

With up to 16 jets in each squadron, the Navy’s preferred alternative would increase the number of aircraft at Cherry Point from 140 to 174. Cherry Point would also see nearly 1,200 additional military personnel stationed at the base.

The Navy has scheduled public hearings on the report for 4 to 7 p.m. June 15 at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center in Havelock, June 16 at the Emerald Isle Community Center and June 17 at Fred A. Anderson Elementary in Bayboro and will also take written comments on the plan through July 12 before issuing its final basing report this fall, most likely in November. The Navy is expected to make its final decision in December.

“Cherry Point has always been and will continue to be a superb base for Marine aviators to train for our nation’s battles,” Col. Douglas Denn, commanding officer at Cherry Point, said in a statement. “I think the recommendation to station eight squadrons at Cherry Point is a tribute to the outstanding support we have received from our local community throughout the environmental impact process.

“This new aircraft will be a critical tool for Marines to use in our nation’s defense with MCAS Cherry Point offering unique training airspace and ranges. Additionally, if the proposed basing is approved, it will provide a tremendous economic impact to the region with the associated military construction necessary to support the new capabilities.”

The Navy’s second preferred option would be to place all 11 operational squadrons at Cherry Point, while placing the two replacement squadrons in Beaufort, S.C.

“I’m a greedy sort. I would have preferred 11,” said Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders, who is also head of Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow, a lobby group for the base. “We’re still going to work on 11, but eight is good.”

The Navy calls its preferred alternative the basing option that best “balances environmental impacts with mission requirements.”

If the placement of the eight squadrons at Cherry Point happens, area officials believe it virtually assures a long future for Cherry Point. The F-35 is expected to be operational for the next 50 years.

“If we get those eight squadrons, things will be good for a really long time,” Sanders said. “It’s certainly an exciting time. This is a major transformation of Cherry Point. We’re been with the Harriers for 40 years. The F-35 is going to be the next phase of Cherry Point.”

The Fleet Readiness Center East rework and repair facility at Cherry Point has already been tasked to be the major engine overhaul facility for the F-35B and will also handle airframe repair for the jets.

“That would be additional work. For the next several generations, this will be the key part of this region’s economy,” said Jim Davis, executive director of the Craven County Economic Development Commission.

Regional officials had been anticipating the release of the study for months.

“This will be fantastic,” Havelock Commissioner Danny Walsh said. “We look forward to the increase. I will be tickled pink if all this comes about.”

Officials are already pushing for a large turnout at the public hearings as a show of support for the base.

“You need to mark your calendar. You need to make sure that the Navy and the Marine Corps are welcome in this part of North Carolina,” Sanders said. “We can’t sit back. This is an opportunity. The public hearings will be our chance to say that we want these aircraft to be part of our
community. They’ve been part of our community for the better part of 70 years.”

The Navy’s preferred basing option would result in an 8.5 percent increase in Cherry Point’s workforce, according to the report. That would result in a long-term gain of $46.9 million in annual payroll income.

Four hangars would have to be demolished and eight new modular hangars would be built for the jets. Cherry Point’s control tower would be demolished and rebuilt, and aviation armament, machine shops and instructional facility would also be constructed.

Total construction costs over seven years are estimated at nearly $508 million, and about 1,500 construction jobs, producing $53.5 million in labor income, would be needed, according to the report.

The impact on Havelock could be significant as well, with 2,323 new dependents, including 675 school-age children, coming to the area.

“I think it’s great that there are going to be so many jobs created and that our commissioners are getting our infrastructure ready for this,” said Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce. “I want them here yesterday. It will be great for us once we get
them.”

Havelock is in the planning stages to construct a new sewer discharge pipe that would increase sewer wastewater capacity by 260,000 gallons per day by 2012. The Navy report estimated an additional 244,000 gallons of sewer capacity would be needed to handle the additional personnel.

“We’re looking at a 30-month window for completion,” Sanders said. “I think we’re going to be more than ready to accommodate.”

The earliest the new jets are expected to arrive at Cherry Point is 2014, according to the report. However, replacement of all Harrier squadrons is not anticipated until 2020, and Navy calls for a nine-year implementation of the basing option, which would run through 2023.

Construction associated with the new squadrons is anticipated to start next year. The Navy also anticipates deactivating Cherry Point’s Harrier training squadron in 2011 as well. The F-35 training squadrons are already in place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

The Navy report estimates that 3,337 more acres would be exposed to noise levels of 65 decibels or greater. However, it does not anticipate louder noise over any Havelock area school.

Noise had been a concern, especially surrounding Bogue Field, an auxiliary landing field in Carteret Carteret just north of Cape Carteret where some complained about loud jets disrupting the coastal setting. However, the Navy report mentions flights at Bogue Field would be reduced under the preferred basing alternative.

Billy Keyserling, mayor of Beaufort, S.C., said he was just getting into the heart of the Navy’s report.

“Of course the good news is that Beaufort remains in the mix, that we have a longstanding partnership with the (Department of Defense),” Keyserling said. “We enjoy a very special relationship through which we have created unique partnerships to protect airspace and room for MCAS Beaufort to grow.

“I think it is fair to say the community will be very enthusiastic about what they read.”

The Navy’s second choice is to place 11 squadrons at Cherry Point and two in Beaufort, S.C., while the third would place five squadrons at Cherry Point and the fourth would place just two at Cherry Point.

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