Today the State Senate passed a resolution supporting the placement of F-35 fighter jets at the Truax Air Force Base in northeast Madison.
The resolution was sponsored by sixteen Republican lawmakers, but just one Democrat signed on to the measure: Senator Mark Miller, who represents suburbs east of Madison and whose district contains Truax Air Field.
The measure is the latest in the debate over whether to house the F-35 fighter jets in Madison. Supporters of F-35s in Madison point to patriotism and the economic impacts of keeping jobs at the air base.
But detractors primarily point to the noise and environmental impacts that are outlined in the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the US Air Force and the decreased quality of life that could result.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a press conference this morning that the new planes would ensure the Truax air base stays open.
“It’s not about what’s going on in the sky, it’s about what’s going on on the ground, and it is… let’s maintain Truax, let’s maintain the buildings, the units, the civilian personnel, everyone that’s involved in Truax right now,” Fitzgerald said.
A spokesperson for the Truax Air Base said they do not know if the base would close if the F-35s do not come to Madison, but that the planes could secure their mission for the next 30 to 40 years.
Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, and Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson all support putting the F-35s in Madison.
Representative Mark Pocan, who represents Wisconsin’s second district, which includes Truax Air Field, says more testing is needed. He’s called on the Air Force to complete a takeoff and landing of the F-35s, so residents can get an understanding of what it will sound like.
Air Force Secretary Matthiew Donovan denied that request earlier this month, saying it would “Serve no evaluative purpose” and “inject subjectivity that would undermine the deliberative environmental analysis.”
The environmental impact statement found that the F-35s would expose over 2,500 nearby residents to an average noise level at or above 65 decibels thanks to the dramatic noise increases as the jets fly overhead. That’s the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner three feet away.
According to a City of Madison analysis, exposure to noise levels such as this can have long-term effects including “sleep disturbance, decreased school performance, increased levels of stress, hearing impairment, annoyance, hypertension, and heart disease.”
But when asked this morning about concerns over the potential increase in noise levels for surrounding residents, Representative Tony Kurtz, a co-sponsor of the bill, said there won’t be that much difference in noise between the two types of jets.
“I can’t speak for their feelings on that interpretation. I’m just going by the data I’ve seen. A bulldozer has a decibel levels of around 95 decibels. So are we going to go around to all the construction sites that are around housing areas and and say, wait a minute, you can’t have a construction site in this area?”
When pressed over whether there’s enough information about the sound levels projected by the F-35s, Kurtz said,
“I go back to what they’re saying is going to be the range. And that range is between 60, to 70, to 80 [decibels.] This is being over-exaggerated as far as the noise levels,” Kurtz said.
Representative Kurtz represents Volk Field in Juneau County, which is the primary training airspace for the 115th Fighter Wing.
The Environmental Impact report found that the F-35s would create about 64 permanent jobs, but supporters argue that the jets would also keep over one thousand employees currently at the base and create several hundred temporary construction jobs.
Miller wrote an article in the Wisconsin State Journal back in 2017 saying that the noise levels of the F-35s would be similar to those of F-16s, and pointed to the noise abatement policies of the Madison Air National Guard, which he said were “conscientious.”
Miller co-sponsored the resolution passed today and did not respond to a request for comment by the time of broadcast.
Representative Kurtz said that Wisconsin, and the 115th Fighter Wing stationed at Truax, should be proud to receive the F-35s.
“It’s not something the air force threw a dart at a map and said ‘we’re just going to put a unit here.’ It took years of dedication of the men and women of the Air National Guard to achieve this esteemed honor,” he said.
“The Air Force looked at numerous records over the years. They looked at maintenance records, they looked at pilot proficiencies. They took all this into account. These are high standards the Air Force set. The 115th met every one of those standards.”
The Assembly will vote on the resolution on Thursday.
If the Air Force decides to send the F-35s to Madison, they will arrive here in 2023.