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Final environmental impact statement for B-21 at Ellsworth AFB completed

By NATHAN THOMPSON | Rapid City Journal | Published: March 11, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Air Force released Wednesday the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the B-21 bomber program, marking a key step in making Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City the preferred alternative location for the aircraft.

The report includes a 56-page executive summary and two volumes of data with 458 pages and 372 pages each, signifying Ellsworth as the preferred site to host training and first operations of the stealth bomber. Dyess Air Force Base in Texas was also examined in the report.

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R- S.D., said Wednesday's release of the statement is an important step in the process to green-light the B-21 program.

"The EIS is a major step forward, but not the only step necessary," he told the Journal on Wednesday evening. "Most certainly this confirms what the Air Force had intended in the first place. This is good news, and there were no surprises that we can see in the EIS, so we (Ellsworth) continue to hold our position as the preferred alternative, which is the best that we could have hoped for."

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., sent a message via Twitter Wednesday, calling the B-21 statement a key milestone for Ellsworth.

"This important step continues to back up the ( Air Force's) original base sequencing, and it paves the way for a final record of decision that would allow for significant construction to begin ahead of the B-21's arrival," Thune said.

Ellsworth Development Authority Executive Director Scott Landguth said the EIS will allow for planning to continue at the base and areas surrounding Ellsworth.

"It's good news just like everything that's gone along. It was another step in this process the Air Force completed, but it verified that Ellsworth Air Force Base is the preferred site," Landguth said. "Things now continue to move forward on the timeline that's already been discussed. It's very good news and a good result for Ellsworth."

Avoiding a potential shutdown in 2005 through the Base Realignment and Closure process, Ellsworth Air Force Base together with Rapid City and Box Elder committed to improvements keeping the base viable and important for military strategic command, Landguth said.

"Since 2005, all that work and effort has paid off and the Air Force places Ellsworth as the prime site for the most advanced weapons systems it has," he said.

Rounds commended Ellsworth and surrounding communities for that commitment.

"The local community, the elected leaders and civic leaders that had the foresight to continue to fight for Ellsworth Air Force Base, and the fact that the Ellsworth Authority exists with the work they've done around the base has been prime for this. I can't say enough about the local community support and involvement," Rounds said.

Following all studies, the U.S. Air Force will make its final decision on the first of three Main Operating Bases for the B-21. The Secretary of the Air Force has announced the preferred strategic basing alternative for the first location would be Ellsworth AFB, with Dyess AFB as a reasonable alternative. Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri would be a third location.

nathan.thompson@rapidcityjournal.com

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