Madison remains preferred location for F-35s despite ‘significant’ impacts to low-income, ‘minority’ populations

MADISON, Wis. — Madison and Montgomery, Alabama, remained preferred locations for F-35s in an Environmental Impact Study released by the United States Air Force on Wednesday, despite the report noting”significant, disproportionate impacts to low-income and minority populations, as well as children.”

According to the study, the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison is the preferred alternative for the 5th Operational Beddown. The 187th Fighter Wing in Montgomery is the preferred alternative for the 6th Operational Beddown.

The study said the F-35s would replace the existing fighter attack aircraft at the selected installations.

The report said an additional 1,019 households — approximately 2,215 people — would be in the section of the city with 65 dB Day-Night Average Sound Levels (DNL). It also said an additional 292 people — or 132 homes — would be in a section of the city with 75 dB DNL, which it notes is incompatible with housing. It also estimates a 47 percent increase in military operations if Madison gets the new aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force broke down impacts into categories. On schools, the report said the impacts will be similar to impacts from F-16s, the current class of jets used at Truax Field. On environment, it said air quality would not be significantly impacted, and the Air Force would work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on any potential PFAS regulation.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said this report confirms citizens’ worst fears, and she said now is the time for residents to let the Air Force know how they feel.

“This is an inappropriate proposal,” she said. “You don’t go placing these kind of planes, that the Air Force has determined in some instances are four times louder than F-16 planes, in the middle of a dense, residential environment.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he thinks there is still a lot of support for the change.

“I know there’s some legislators from the isthmus, specifically in Dane County, that don’t support it,” he said. “But there seems to be a lot of support in surrounding counties.”

Badger Air Community Council’s executive director Chris Arenz agrees that there is a lot of support. He said the biggest support comes from optimism about the F-35s sustaining the economy.

“The fighter wing brings $100 million annually in economic impact. That’s 1,700 jobs in the area,” Arenz said. “Getting the F-35 will ensure the longevity of the fighter wing and therefore, keep those jobs and that economic impact here for another 40 years.

Fitzgerald said he’s told people Truax Field will be directly affected if the F-35 isn’t located there, but the report said if no action is taken, infrastructure will stay and, “there would be no change to the based personnel at any of the alternative locations.”

In his blog, Madison Alder Syed Abbas said, “I am sorry to say that according to the report, the Secretary of the Air Force has identified the 115 FW in Madison, Wisconsin, as the preferred alternative for the 5th Operational Beddown, and the 187 FW in Montgomery, Alabama as the preferred alternative for the 6th Operational Beddown. As your alder, I have strongly opposed and stood against F-35s coming to Madison on the public forum as well as at the Common Council. I have been advocating for your voices in opposition and I will stand with you to fight against the environmental and racial injustices. I will continue to strongly oppose the F-35s.”

Syed said in the blog that he has not yet had the chance to read through the 931-page report.

In November, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway asked the Pentagon to reconsider listing Truax Field as the preferred location to house the fighter jets.

Her statement said noise from the jets would render more than 1,000 homes incompatible for residential use.

Military officials received more than 6,400 public comments, most of them focused on noise, according to an article from the Wisconsin State Journal.

The National Guard Bureau said it was incorporating all relevant comments “as appropriate” into the final Environmental Impact Study.

There will now be a 30-day waiting period before Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett will make a final basing decision.

The Air Force previously identified Madison as its preferred alternative to receive the next squadron of the $90 million jets, which would replace the 32-year-old F-16s.

The F-35s would not come to Madison until at least 2023, according to officials.