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Decision anticipated for F-35 fighter jets at Eielson Air Force Base

FAIRBANKS — Eielson Air Force Base officials could announce as soon as Monday whether the base will get two squadrons of F-35 fighter aircraft.

The end of a required 30-day waiting period before the Air Force can issue its decision comes on Monday, the same day the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce is hosting an event that includes presentations from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Col. Michael Winkler, commander of Eielson's 354th Fighter Wing. Gov. Bill Walker, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and state Sen. Click Bishop are also expected to attend the event, according to the chamber's announcement, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The chamber has not provided details about the event but advertised it as "one luncheon you don't want to miss."

Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. CEO Jim Dodson said he was optimistic that the F-35s will be assigned to Eielson. Dodson and state leaders have supported efforts to have the Air Force station the 54 jets at the base, citing potential economic benefits.

"We are looking forward to this Monday and what we anticipate to be a positive announcement on the Air Force's record of decision which will ultimately bring 54 F-35s to Eielson AFB," Dodson said in an email to the FEDC mailing list Friday. "This final procedure will signal the start of the military construction at Eielson and the two squadrons of F-35s in 2020."

In August 2014, the Air Force announced Eielson was the only base in the Pacific region being considered as a potential site to house the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

An environmental review published March 4 found that adding the fighter aircraft would inject $453 million into Interior Alaska's economy in the next four years. It would also bring about 2,765 airmen, civilians and contractors to the area and increase public school enrollment in the Fairbanks North Star Borough by 2.8 percent, according to the review.

The environmental costs of the new aircraft would include an increase in air traffic at the base and construction in the Tanana River floodplain, the review says.

If the Air Force decides to bring F-35s to Eielson, the base would be only the second after Hill Air Force Base to have operational F-35 squadrons. The Utah base got its first F-35 delivered last fall.

There are also F-35s for training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and plans for Air National Guard-assigned F-35s at Burlington International Airport in Vermont.

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