Fairbanks strides closer to F-35 answer

An F-35 flies over Florida (U.S. Air Force photo)
An F-35 flies over Florida (U.S. Air Force photo)

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The Air Force plan to station two squadrons of F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base cleared a milestone Thursday with the publication of the final environmental impact statement. The 1,000-page report says the basing decision would not significantly harm the air quality of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.  The report also says no harm to wildlife is expected, other than an increase of about 14 bird strikes per year.

Fairbanks business leaders have been promoting Eielson as the best place for the F-35s. Among them is Jim Dodson, president of Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. Dodson said this afternoon he looked forward to reading the report and didn’t expect it would contain any barriers to bringing the squadrons to Fairbanks.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “The community is prepared to do what it needs to do to make that happen.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski calls the report “an important step” and says she expected a final decision to come in about a month.

The report does say average noise levels would increase for about 73 households in the Moose Creek area, north and west of the base. The probability of being awoken by noise would increase slightly. Sonic booms, though, can travel outside the normal noise path. Delta Junction is projected to feel two more booms per month in the busy season.

Dodson says he believes the noise won’t be a problem.

“We’re a military town, and 30 percent of the employment in Fairbanks is military, and 38 percent of our payroll is military,” he said.  “As I often heard out in the public, ‘I didn’t know that was noise, I thought it was the sound of freedom.’”

The impact report says the move would inject more than $450 million dollars into the economy during the three-year construction phase. After that, the economic benefit is estimated at $250 million a year.  The two squadrons would add more than 1,000 military personnel, nearly 500 civilian workers, and about 1,200 family members.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan says the 48 fighters, combined with the F-22’s at Elmendorf, would show Alaska is becoming a hub of combat airpower.

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in Pentagon history. The latest budget proposal would slow the pace of acquisition, but Air Force officials say it will not affect the basing timetable.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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