Hundreds pack Alliant Energy Center to give input on F-35 jets

If the 115th Fighter Wing gets new and more advanced jets, its neighbors will be significantly impacted, according to the draft environmental impact statement out in August.

The statement estimated that more than 2,000 people would be impacted by this switch from F-16s to F-35s, and hundreds of them went to a public meeting on the potential jets Thursday night.

At first I was wondering why this F-35 meeting was at the Alliant Energy Center. Turns out we need the space. #News3Now

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) September 12, 2019

Diane Walder lives near Truax Field and went to the meeting to let the Guard know she doesn’t want the change in jets. She said the F-16s the Guard has now are hard for her because she has tinnitus, which causes extreme pain in her ears when she hears loud noises.

“If these jets come through, life will be absolutely unlivable,” she said.

Lt. Col. Charlie Merkel with the Wisconsin Air National Guard said the studies the guard has done have shown the new jets wouldn’t be much different than what’s there now.

“There have been some studies done by other countries where they’ve flown them around their cities and had people listen to them,” Merkel said. “People reported that they actually didn’t (notice) much difference in the noise they detected from the F-35 versus the F-16.”

Others in the guard say the change could be crucial to keeping the base around years into the future.

“If the F-16s phase out, or run out of flight hours or things like that, then potentially, what happens then?” said Capt. Leslie Westmont, a public affairs officer for the Wisconsin Air National Guard. “We just don’t know. So what we’re trying to do is secure our future.”

There’s swag for and against the proposed F-35s at the meeting tonight. Hats in support… and across the street… signs and sign ups against. Lots of people out here to let Truax know how they feel. #News3Now

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) September 12, 2019

Mike Higgins, who works on the northeast side, doesn’t get the opposition for the upgrade. He works for the Carpenters Union, and he sees only good in a new project.

“We’re talking about a $90 to $100 million job with Davis-Bacon rules involved with this, which means any contractor that does this job will be paying prevailing wages and benefits,” Higgins said.

The Air National Guard is looking at five locations across the U.S. for these jets, but Madison is one of the two preferred locations, along with one in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Wisconsin Air National Guard is accepting public comment until Sept. 27.

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