Joint Strike Fighter F-35 coming to Eglin AFB

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Kenny Wilder
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Fri Feb 06, 2009 3:28 pm

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Air Force: Joint Strike Fighter is a go (with DOCUMENT)
CLICK HERE for Record of Decision

Northwest Florida Daily news
Mona Moore
February 6, 2009 - 11:27AM


EGLIN A.F.B. — Air Force officials announced Friday morning that the initial Joint Strike Fighter Training School will be coming to Eglin but the plans include a few limitations. The Air Force signed an Interim Record of Decision Thursday that will bring 59 F35s to Eglin by 2016.

Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, said the school will open in the Air Force's preferred location, current home of the 33rd Fighter Wing, and use the current runways.

By the time the final Record of Decision is introduced in September 2010, eight F35s will be flying at Eglin."The number of annual operations will grow incrementally and are expected to not exceed: 6,500 in 2010; 40,000... (by 2011) and 60,000 in 2012," according to the Air Force's record of decision released Friday.

To appease Eglin neighbors concerned about the noise of the aircraft, the Air Force will limit the use of the runway closest to Valparaiso to emergencies and weather.

The school's operations will also see adjustments that will mitigate the noise. According to the interim ROD, the school will not be able to operate - with 59 or 113 aircraft - under the limitations in place.
"These are temporary limitations," said Col. Bruce McClintock, commander of the 96th Air Base Wing.

The limitations will stand until the final Record of Decision is completed. That ROD will determine whether the training school receives the additional 48 aircraft or is limited to the initial size and scope of 59 aircraft.

In the meantime, the NEPA process of identifying new alternatives for the use of runways will continue with a supplemental environmental impact statement, public hearings and a final environmental impact statement that offers solutions to noise concerns.

"It is absolutely the best we could've hoped for at this point and I think the Air Force looked hard at all the options and took into account the community's concerns and they're committed to working on those," said Jim Breitenfeld, Defense Support Initiative manager for the Economic Development Council and BRAC consultant for the Okaloosa Walton Workforce Development Board.

The city of Valparaiso has expressed concerns about noise, but the Air Force plans to look at the problem this year. Nearly 7,000 residents could be exposed to noise levels above 65 decibels and more than 1,300 could experience noise above 80 decibels, according to an Environmental Impact Statement released in October.

Colonel McClintock said the fact that the Air Force issued an interim Record of Decision and is continuing the process is a sign of its willingness to work with the community.

"The reasons we have an interim Record of Decision is because of the concerns of the community," he said.

The JSF school will evolve from a small operation to train F-35 instructors to a full school with possibly more than 500 students each year. The first wave of fighter pilots will come from the Air Force, Navy, Marines and at least eight countries.

The Emerald Coast stands to gain millions. If the F-35 school gets the 113 aircraft originally planned, local schools stand to gain $10.6 million in revenue. The mission also is expected to create 2,326 direct jobs and an additional 1,322 induced positions.

The Air Force started awarding contracts for nine construction projects worth $170 million Thursday, said Ferguson. Okaloosa County predicts about 2,500 BRAC-related construction vehicles per day will hit the roads through 2011.

"In a lot of ways, it's the 'Northwest Florida Stimulus Package,'" said Breitenfeld. "We're hopeful we can get a large percentage of the subcontracts to locals which will clearly help the local economy."

With 113 aircraft, mission will bring 2,326 personnel to the area. Family members bring the total to nearly 5,000. Funding to ease traffic is incomplete, and road projects, normally years in the works, have been pushed into overdrive.

Check back for more details.
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