By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF
May 1, 2013
Loretta Sanchez’s visit to Imperial County over the last two days brought a high-ranking, high-profile congresswoman face to face with a number of local concerns, from border and checkpoint wait times, to the issues plaguing the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland body of water.
Yet Sanchez’s big guns will be best served in what she can do to get the message back to Washington, D.C., about local concerns over the potential home-basing of the Navy’s new F-35C Joint Strike Fighter squadron.
Sanchez is the representative for a congressional district in Orange County. For our purposes, though, she is the second highest-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and the highest ranking Dem on the Air and Land Tactical subcommittee, which is instrumental in looking at the home-basing of military airplanes.
That is significant, because she went before the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Monday to hear from supervisors over their concerns about a flawed process in the draft environmental impact study determining the preferred location of the Joint Strike Fighter squadron.
The study lists Naval Air Facility Lemoore as the preferred alternative over Naval Air Facility El Centro, due in part, to the cost differences in infrastructure to base the jets. Lemoore would reportedly cost $242 million in infrastructure, while NAF El Centro would reportedly cost $790 million.
Those representing the effort to bring the squadron to the Imperial Valley, including the county Board of Supervisors, recognize that there “were legal deficiencies in the draft based on the use of inadequate data,” Supervisor Jack Terrazas told Sanchez on Monday night.
Among the concerns is that the outcome of the draft EIS was predetermined in Lemoore’s favor, which, according to those representing local efforts, is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
What’s more, although the price disparity between Lemoore and El Centro looks great, local officials say it is misleading, that in fact the ongoing operation of the squadron in El Centro would save about $100 million a year.
The case being made locally is a pretty good one, but regardless of the content, it was important to take that argument to someone who might be able to make a difference. And if not make a difference, Sanchez is the person who can direct the conversation and concerns to the right people.
It will be important to see how the county and the local Strike Fighter group follow this up. We understand Sanchez’s presence will be important for many different issues, but the reality is she has a direct link to this particular concern.
U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez was in the Valley on Monday and Tuesday.
Her biggest help could be with the effort to home base the F-35C jets here.
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