While the COVID-19 outbreak demands immediate and ongoing attention from all levels of government, some local matters simply can’t be paused.
Tomorrow night, Madison’s city council will consider over one hundred agenda items, including a resolution to oppose the stationing of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field on the city’s northeast side.
“This resolution is a strong statement by the Madison Common Council that we value the health and wellbeing of our residents, especially our most vulnerable residents,” says Madison Alder Rebecca Kemble, lead sponsor of the resolution. “This awareness has been heightened by the coronavirus pandemic in our community, and I think our awareness has been expanded to include all other potential negative impacts on our community.”
Last Saturday, the Badger Air Community Council, which supports the F-35 beddown mission, accused the city council of “sneaking” the resolution onto tomorrow’s agenda. But, Kemble says that the resolution was “premeditated” by a similar measure dating back to last September.
“In that resolution, there was language [asking] the Air National Guard [to] reconsider the selection of Truax Field as a preferred location until and unless the findings of the EIS are shown to misrepresent the significant environmental impacts to those living in, working in, and visiting the north and east sides of Madison,” Kemble says.
The Air Force published its final environmental impact statement for the F-35s in the Federal Register at the end of February. That kicked off a 30-day waiting period before Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett could make a final basing decision for the jets.
According to Kemble, that waiting period ends today.
“They’re going to make their decision soon, and we need to make this statement to the Air Force before they make their decision. So, as it is, [the resolution] might be a day too late. We don’t know,” Kemble says. “I haven’t heard any news today, but this was the latest possible moment we could have done this resolution.”
Chris Arenz, Badger Air’s Executive Director, also criticizes the timing of the resolution. Arenz says that national guard members won’t be able to “participate in the democratic process” because they can’t “attend a city council meeting in the middle of a pandemic.
While the city council is holding all meetings virtually, constituents may still receive instructions on how to speak about agenda items during those meetings by registering online.
Supporters of the resolution, like Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin’s Vicki Berenson, say that although local governments should be focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, it can’t be at the expense of long-term wellbeing.
“It’s really important that we don’t lose sight of long-term health and safety issues. It’s really easy to get immersed in the crisis of the moment, which of course is really a major crisis and does need a lot of attention, but if you let the long-term things kind of fly by, they’re going to hit you in the face later on,” Berenson says.
Residents may watch tomorrow’s virtual meeting by streaming the meeting on the Madison City Channel website, listening to the audio by phone, or watching the meeting using the Zoom app.
Apart from the resolution opposing F-35s, agenda items with the highest interest include an ordinance that would create a license to operate a tourist rooming house and an agreement to send up to one hundred Madison police officers to Milwaukee during the Democratic National Convention in July.
The council will also consider overriding a Plan Commission decision denying the use of property at 3630 Milwaukee Street as parking for an adjacent Amazon warehouse.