COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has warned the Pentagon that opposition to the Marine Corps presence in the state could arise if new F-35 combat jets at the Beaufort air station prove to be louder than expected.
Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said Wednesday the governor hasn't gotten a response to his letter of Nov. 23, sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In the letter, Sanford suggests the Navy send one of the Joint Strike Fighters undergoing testing in Maryland to Beaufort so residents there might judge noise levels for themselves.
The Pentagon is expected to announce a decision in coming weeks about dividing 13 F-35 squadrons between the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C. The jets are intended to replace aging F-18 fighters.
Sanford said he's been made aware of strong support for the potential basing of the F-35s in the region, and that he has also heard from locals who have voiced doubts over the program's potential impact. Bringing an aircraft in for a test might answer some of the questions, Sanford wrote.
"I am left with a fair degree of confusion on who is right," Sanford told Gates.
"In short, if the noise footprint is several times that of people's expectations, many would argue it would be a tipping point in creating organized opposition to the base's military operations," Sanford wrote. "I believe formal and organized opposition in one of the fastest growing counties in South Carolina would over the long run spell the base's demise, and as a supporter of MCAS Beaufort, I don't think that would be good for Beaufort, the state of South Carolina or the Marine Corps."
The governor acknowledged he was entering the fray about the pros and cons of the aircraft at "the eleventh hour," and could have remained silent, given he is a term-limited governor who leaves office in January.
But, the governor noted, "as I own a farm down that way with my sister and brothers" who all support the proposed basing, Sanford said he wanted to make sure the community had all its facts in hand before a decision was made.
The Sanford family has owned the Coosaw Plantation in Beaufort County for four decades.