EL CENTRO – Imperial Valley United for Joint Strike Fighter has filed a protest over the handling of the El Centro workshop concerning the environmental study regarding homebasing the Navy’s F-35C squadrons. The local coalition also has asked the Navy to extend the public comment period for 30 days because of the unequal treatment afforded to local residents. The current comment period is scheduled to end April 22.
In a letter delivered today to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and to the area’s congressman, Rep. Juan Vargas, the local coalition states that those handling the Navy’s environmental workshop made it difficult for Imperial Valley residents to participate in the environmental study. The study is being conducted to help the Navy decide whether to homebase the new Joint Strike Fighter squadrons at the Naval Air Facility – El Centro or Lemoore Naval Air Station. Moreover, the letter states that those who did attend the El Centro JSF environmental workshop, which was held on the Southwest High School campus, faced consultants who sometimes dismissed their concerns and comments.
The letter states there were “significant problems with the public’s ability to participate in the El Centro ‘workshop’ on March 21, 2013, because of barriers created by location of the workshop and lack of signage.”
The workshop was held in the school’s multipurpose room which is located across the campus from locations more normally used by the public, such as the Southwest Performing Arts Center and gymnasium. Additionally, there was no street signage or even signage near the gym and performing arts center directing the public to the meeting’s actual location.
In contrast, the March 19 workshop in Lemoore was held in the Civic Center with signs posted at intervals along the street.
Moreover, the Imperial Valley United for Joint Strike Fighter letter states, “The impression given by naval EIS representatives at the workshop was that a decision had already been made and the (El Centro) workshop was being held only as a formality.”
Imperial Valley United for Joint Strike Fighter is a broad based community group that supports homebasing the JSF at NAF- El Centro both because it would be a boon to the local economy and because the local base offers the Navy numerous economies and advantages, including year-round flying weather, proximity to ranges and to the fleet and a lack of urban encroachment. The Imperial Irrigation District, the Board of Supervisors, local city councils and chambers of commerce, COLAB are among the supporters of the effort.