HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- The next step to bring two F-35 squadrons to Hill Air Force Base will happen shortly after the new year.
After last week's bad news for Hill, which included an Air Force restructuring plan that will result in the loss of 261 civilian jobs at the base, the draft environmental impact statement for the F-35 is scheduled to be released in January, base officials say.
Barbara Fisher, chief of environmental public affairs, said in a statement sent to the Standard-Examiner there will be a 45-day period for public comments.
In 2010, the base was chosen as the Air Force's preferred alternative for the location of the first two operational squadrons of the advanced F-35 stealth fighter.
The completion of the environmental impact statement is the only hurdle to clear before Hill can stand up the squadrons by 2013.
Along with the public comment period, there will be a round of public meetings, Fisher said.
"We currently don't know when the public hearings will be held for Hill," she said, "but we anticipate there will be four (hearings)."
In early 2010, a team of Air Force representatives from the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia came to the Ogden area, distributing environmental information on the Air Force's next-generation fighter plane.
Air Force officials said then that the environmental work would take about a year to complete, but the process has taken longer than expected.
One of the biggest environmental issues associated with the F-35 is its noise level. Hill currently has two F-16 fighter squadrons, but the F-35 is said to be considerably more noisy than the F-16.
Designed to replace aging aircraft like the F-16, the F-35 should sustain Hill for years, state lawmakers say.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said although the base is facing job cuts, the Secretary of the Air Force has assured him that Hill is still on track to receive the jet.
Hill will also likely obtain a third operational squadron in 2019, assuming the F-35 program remains funded and on course. The Air Force selected Hill from a pool of 204 installations around the world.