Madison Common Council asks Air Force to reconsider F-35 jets

Madison’s Common Council is asking the Air Force to reconsider placing F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field in Madison.

The vote on an amended resolution came after an eight-hour meeting that included hundreds of public comments.

Currently, the 115th Fighter Wing flies F-16 jets out of the Truax base. The Air Force announced in December 2017 that Madison was a preferred base to house the next generation fighter jet.

Madison is currently considered one of five finalists and two preferred locations for the F-35s.

A resolution introduced by alders representing the area describes concerns drawn from the Air Force’s draft environmental impact statement. The resolution concludes impacts like increased noise would disproportionately affect vulnerable populations like minorities, children and those with low incomes. It asks the Air Force to reconsider Madison as a preferred location if it can’t mitigate impacts.

Dozens registered to give comment Tuesday, almost overwhelmingly in opposition to the F-35s and in support of the resolution. Many were worried the F-35s will be significantly louder than the F-16s, which some say are too loud as it is.

“They bank over my house. They rattle the windows. When they go overhead, that’s when card games stop, you pause the TV, go to the bathroom,” one commenter said. “There’s nothing else you can do until the noise is gone.”

“Allowing vulnerable neighborhoods to be exposed to the highest levels of F-35 jet noises flies in the face of attempts to address Madison’s dismal standing in terms of racial justice,” another speaker commented.

Representatives of the 115th Wing were on hand to answer questions, saying the change in volume would likely be less than 3 decibels in most locations and undetectable to most.

“While I understand where the concern comes from, I think once we see the practical operations you will see really no perceptible difference between the current F-16 flights and F-35s,” said Chris Arenz, executive director of the Badger Air Community Council, which is a nonprofit supporting the 115th Wing.

Arenz said the draft EIS was done looking at worst-case scenarios.

A BACC member, Susan Schmitz, said she worries about the base’s future without F-35s.

“If this does not happen, there’s no reason for an Air Force base in Madison,” Schmitz said. “Twelve hundred people and $99.2 million of annual impact will leave. There is no plan B without F-35s.”

A 115th Wing representative emailed News 3 Now a statement saying the wing encourages community members to use the EIS comment process to voice their concerns.

“This is important to the process as it will enable the Air Force to make the best decision possible, not only for the military, but also for the community,” the statement said. “If selected as an F-35 basing location, the 115th Fighter Wing will continue to work directly with the Airport and community to mitigate any potential impact while accomplishing the Air Force mission. We will work hand-in-hand to develop new noise abatement procedures.”

The busy hearing Tuesday evening was briefly interrupted early in the meeting when everyone in the City County Building was evacuated after a fire alarm. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said it was caused by a malfunction.

The Air Force will make its final decision in February 2020.

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