Madison School Board, state representative and retired Air Force colonel weigh in on F-35 debate

Debate surrounding the U.S. Air Force placing F-35 jets in Madison continued Monday as a state lawmaker called for a revised environmental impact statement and the Madison School Board asked the Wisconsin Air National Guard to reconsider placing the jets in the city.

At a press conference Monday, Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said there are key pieces of information missing from the draft environmental impact statement the U.S. Air Force released in August.

“There’s been a lot of conflicting information out there and misinformation regarding this proposal,” she said.

#BREAKING Rep. Chris Taylor calls for 60 day extension to public comment period for the EIS for F-35s… and says the current EIS doesn’t have all the information, like what peak decibels are for the jets. She wants that fixed. #News3Now

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) September 23, 2019

She said the U.S. Air Force needs to put together a revised statement that includes information such as how the jets will impact home value and taxes and that has translations available for non-English speakers. Additionally, she called for a 60-day extension to the public comment period to allow citizens to review the new statement.

“We don’t even know the peak decibel levels of these jets when they take off and land,” Taylor said. “Nowhere is that in that environmental impact statement. Our community needs to know that information.”

She said that information has been available in other environmental impact statements the U.S. Air Force has released for other locations.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco, a former city councilor from Burlington, Vermont, said peak decibel levels for both F-16s and F-35s were available in her city’s environmental impact statement. Greco flew into Madison to help educate the community about how it can push back against the proposal, applying what she learned in her city’s failed efforts to do the same.

She said the Air National Guard is lying about how large of an impact the new jets will have on people near Truax.

“Until the EIS came out, I was for the F-35,” Greco said. “I was for it based on what the Air Guard officials told me, and then when the document came out, I read it, and it contradicted what the Guard said.”

She said the jets will be up to four times louder than the F-16s, but former Truax pilot Chris Arenz said that’s not necessarily true, and a comparison would be too difficult to make since it depends on many factors, such as how high the planes are flying, where you are and even the weather.

Arenz is the executive director for Badger Air Community Council, an advocacy and education group for the 115th Fighter Wing Division at Truax Field, but he flew F-16s for the 115th Fighter Wing for 20 years.

He said pilots and the Wisconsin Air Guard have noise abatement policies they must follow, and he said they stick to them because they are part of the community.

Arenz said he thinks the opponents to the F-35s are overstating the negative impacts in the environmental impact statement, which are a worst-case scenario, he said.

People who live in or near the impact zone listed in the statement are still worried about excess noise that could come from the new jets.

Dr. Beth Neary said high decibel levels, especially bursts that happen too quickly for nerves in the ear to naturally dull, can cause long-term health effects besides hearing loss.

“It overproduces stress hormones,” Neary said. “It interrupts sleep. It can cause increases in blood pressure, impacts on cardiovascular disease, ringing in the ear, negative effects on mental health, but for children the impacts are far greater.”

The Madison School Board was concerned about the impacts on children, too.

There are at least 10 schools in or around the 65-decibel contour provided in the draft statement. Those closest could have interfering events at least twice a day, according to the statement.

Schools that are just outside the impact area, like Hawthorne Elementary, would not be eligible for federal soundproofing money.

Monday night, the board adopted its resolution asking the U.S. Air Force to reconsider Madison as a preferred location. Madison Common Council approved a similar resolution last week.

Besides general impact to school children, the school board worried about the disproportionate effect they said the noise could have on communities of color and lower income communities.

Community activist Brandi Grayson echoed that.

“I don’t have the funds to move,” Grayson said. “I moved to the north side of Madison because the south side gentrification moved me out. I could no longer afford it.”

Grayson also said she worries about air and water pollution, especially given respiratory issues she has from current pollution, though the environmental impact statement said that is not a concern.

Unless Taylor’s request is granted, the public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement ends Friday. You can submit your opinions here.

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