Earlier today, a group of activists and community leaders in Madison reaffirmed their opposition to the United States Air Force’s proposal to bring F-35 fighter jets to the city.
Last week, the Air Force released its final environmental impact study on how stationing the F-35s at Truax Field located north of Madison would affect the city.
State Representative Chris Taylor says that the final EIS confirms some of the community leaders’ most pressing concerns.
According to the EIS, over 2,200 individuals would be exposed to a noise contour of 65 decibels, or roughly the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner three feet away.
That contour, which is incompatible with residential use, is the average of sound levels from the dead of night to peak noise levels during the day.
“What that really means is you’re not going to want to live in these zones,” Taylor says.
“Who wants to live in a place where you can’t open your window or your door, or your kids can’t play outside? Is that the community, is that the neighborhood people want to live in? If people are able to obtain federal help in doing some [sound] mitigation, what we know is, first of all, it’s a big if. A lot of people aren’t going to be eligible, and it’s going to take years, if not decades [to get that mitigation].”
Representative Taylor also says the EIS shows that the negative impacts to Madison are the most harmful among any of the five locations being considered for the F-35s.
Tehmina Islam is an east-side resident and business owner whose home doesn’t qualify for sound mitigation because previous homeowners signed an agreement with the Dane County Regional Airport giving it rights to the airspace above the home for the duration of its life.
Islam says opposing the F-35s isn’t unpatriotic.
“This issue isn’t about supporting our troops,” she says.
“My parents are immigrants to this country, and I don’t ever take my rights for granted. But what good does it do to protect our freedoms if we cannot drink the water in our communities? What good does it do when our children cannot hear or learn? This issue isn’t about the neighbors on the northeast side or who are on the flight path. Do you drink water? Then it’s your issue, too.”
In a blog post earlier today, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said that the City received a letter from the state Department of Military Affairs responding to the community’s concerns.
But, Alder Rebecca Kemble, who lives two miles west of Truax, says that neither that letter nor the final EIS provide any information not included in the draft EIS.
“Additionally, the Secretary of the Air Force will be making their decisions based on the information in the EIS, not based on information contained in a letter from the Department of Military Affairs,” Kemble says.
The Mayor’s post also disputes claims that F-35s are four times as loud as F-16s, but Kemble says the information provided by the Air Force suggesting this only looks at takeoff operations and does not take into consideration the use of afterburner.
Proponents of the beddown mission, such as Chris Arenz, Executive Director of the Badger Air Community Council, say that if the F-35s don’t come to Truax, the base — and the jobs its supports — will go away.
They say the 115th Fighter Wing provides annual savings of $10 million in fire crash and rescue services to the Dane County Regional Airport, but Brent McHenry, a spokesperson for the airport, says the County has a different calculation.
“We have calculated just the salary impact, so to hire and pay the firefighting staff that would be required, at about $3 million annually,” McHenry says.
“Numbers that are not included in that are, of course, facilities that would need to be built, equipment that would need to be purchased, training, ongoing supplies that are required for operating a crash and rescue, so that number’s not been calculated.”
According to Kemble, who was among several elected officials who met with Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John Henderson last November, the base doesn’t need the F-35s to continue its mission.
“The base is not going to close. The Air Force has said that its strategic mission is too important, and there are a number of other planes that can be flown out of Truax,” Kemble says.
According to the EIS, under a “No Action Alternative” where no F-35 would be based at Truax, there would be no significant socioeconomic impact to the 115th Fighter Wing.
If the F-35s do come to Madison, Jesse Pycha-Holst, a realtor with Solidarity Realty, says the purported economic benefits could be less than what is claimed.
“Proponents claim of benefits come from a UW Extension study funded by Scott Walker’s WEDC that indicates Truax receives $93 million in federal tax dollars, but places no guarantees this money will stay in Dane County, and admittedly says nothing of negative economic impacts or opportunity costs of other missions or land uses,” Pycha-Holst says.
In an email to WORT, Pycha-Holst also says that because the F35s require more maintenance than the F-16s and can only fly every third day, there’s a chance that stationing F-35s at Truax could result in a loss of base personnel.
The final environmental impact statement for F-35s is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.
This Saturday, beginning at noon, Safe Skies Clean Air Wisconsin will be marching from the intersection of Wright and Anderson Streets to Truax to peacefully demonstrate opposition to the proposed beddown mission.
Chali Pittman contributed audio to this story.