By Elizabeth Jackman from Glendale Star on Aug. 6, 2010
Valley leaders reacted last week with excitement to an announcement by Sen. John McCain that the Department of Air Force has selected Luke Air Force Base as its preferred training base for stationing of the F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter).
“The Air Force has recognized that the unparalleled capabilities inherent to Arizona – from the Barry M. Goldwater Range, to great flying weather, and strong support from state and local governments and communities, serve to provide the best environment and the finest quality of life for our military personnel training in the Air Force’s next generation fighter,” McCain said. “In return, Luke AFB offers the West Valley and the state of Arizona a strong economic engine, contributing more than 8,000 jobs and $2.17 billion annually to the state’s economy.”
With the decision, Luke is now poised to transition from its current F-16 training mission to become the Air Force’s “school house,” subject to the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process that is currently underway.
Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said she was happy and relieved.
“Obviously, they did the right thing for the Air Force, national defense, the state of Arizona and the West Valley,” Scruggs said. “This represents a major milestone and the most critical stage in the F-35 site-selection process. Although we realize there is more work ahead of us, we are extremely grateful to our state’s congressional delegation, the Arizona Legislature, Gov. Jan Brewer, Attorney General Terry Goddard and citizens and businesses for working closely with us to champion and support the F-35 coming to Luke Air Force Base through our Luke Forward campaign.”
The campaign was developed to send a clear, strong message to the Department of Defense that Arizona supports Luke AFB continuing to serve as one of the country’s premier fighter pilot training facilities and to raise awareness of the critical role Luke plays in our national defense and state’s economy.”
Brewer called the selection a testament to Arizona’s great team effort.
“Having Luke selected as the F-35 training center was personal for me. Luke is in my back yard, and I was a founding member of Luke’s Fighter Country Partnership,” said Brewer, who is a resident of Glendale. “In a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley before the selection, and in leading a delegation of Arizona officials to meetings at the Pentagon, I noted Luke is the perfect location for this advanced fighter aircraft given the fact that Arizona has state statutes in place to manage growth around our military installations that protect their missions. I reminded him of Luke’s unique assets – including its proximity to the 2.7-million acre Barry M. Goldwater Range, key to air-to-ground combat training, along with 57,000 cubic miles of airspace overhead where pilots practice air-to-air maneuvers and engage targets on the ground.”
Fighter Country Partnership (FCP) Chairman Charley Freericks, who is co-chairing the Luke Forward Campaign with Scruggs, credits community support for the decision.
“Local community support of military bases is very important back in Washington, and we know the tremendous Valley and statewide support for Luke Air Force Base really helped us,” said Freericks, a senior vice president at DMB Associates. “We reached literally tens of thousands of Arizonans through our citizen and business outreach initiatives, and community support for Luke AFB was overwhelming. There is no question that this strong level of support was a significant factor in the Air Force’s decision to site F-35 at Luke.”
Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett called Luke AFB a real economic driver in the West Valley.
“The F-35 mission ensures Luke’s viability for the next 40 years,” Barrett said. “This is the best news we could have hoped for at this point. The City of Peoria will continue to strongly support the mission and Luke AFB throughout this process.”
The announcement that Luke was a preferred base was made prior to the Air Force’s draft F-35 basing EIS document, which is anticipated to be published in the next 30 days.
The Air Force is required to conduct an environmental assessment of each potential F-35 site before making its final basing decision.
The federally mandated assessment, which is referred to as the EIS process, allows individual citizens and communities around candidate bases to provide input during the formal evaluation of each base.
The Draft EIS will serve as the Air Force’s notice of intent to proceed. Once the Draft EIS is released, in which Luke will be identified as the Air Force’s preferred site, public hearings will be held later this year.
Once the public hearings are held and the comment period concludes, the Air Force will release its final EIS document that will provide responses to comments received from the public.
After the Final EIS document is published, there will be an additional 30-day public review period. After reviewing comments and after considering any environmental impacts, the Air Force will make its final decision.
It is anticipated the Air Force’s final “Record Decision” which will conclude the environmental impact process, will be made in early 2011.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 623-847-4615.