MADISON — With unanswered
questions and increasingly vocal opposition from some residents,
Madison's City Council has asked the Air Force to potentially
reconsider Truax Field as a preferred site for a squadron of
F-35 fighters, while 15 Dane County supervisors have signed a
letter opposing the jets.
But despite assurances that no
decision has been made, history suggests the Pentagon is
unlikely to reverse its position even after gathering public
input on a 1,099-page environmental impact statement published
F-35s recently began arriving in
Burlington, Vermont, despite years of opposition by residents
and local governments.
The Air Force, which has
identified Madison and Montgomery, Alabama, as the preferred
sites for two more squadrons of the new $90 million jets, has
never reversed course on an initial basing decision, said Zach
Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce
and an ardent supporter of the project.
But Brandon said there were
detailed studies of environmental issues such as noise even
before the military chose its preferred sites.
"They don't just throw a
dart at a map and pick a place," he said. "They have
an extensive review process."
Air Force spokeswoman Ann
Stefanek, who has been involved with basing decisions since
2011, said the final choice could change based on the outcome of
an environmental study, but she could not recall that happening
in any of the hundreds of decisions — both personnel and
equipment — she's familiar with.
"I'm not aware of any that
had any issues," Stefanek said.
A final decision by the Secretary
of the Air Force is expected in February, 30 days after the
final environmental impact study is released. Nov. 1 is the
deadline for comments on the draft study.
State Rep. Chris Taylor, who
represents neighborhoods near the airport and has emerged as a
leading voice of the opposition, said there are too many
unknowns for the Air Force to move ahead with plans to base the
new jets in the state's capital city.
Taylor, who would like to see the
Air Force allow more time to study the impact, said she hopes
the public comment process is more than a formality. She thinks
the community should have a say in whether the jets come here,
and if they do how to mitigate the environmental impacts.
"It's not supposed to be a
done deal," she said. "I'm still not a cynic about
government . and the ability of people to influence government.
I still believe people have a powerful say."
While Brandon said the Air Force
has considered most of the concerns — and is unlikely to be
swayed by those who oppose the jets based on an opposition to
warfare and the "military industrial complex" — he
said federal representatives have raised valid questions about
the assumptions used in the sound modeling and ways to mitigate
"The local discussion does
matter," Brandon said.
If Madison is selected, Truax
could begin receiving F-35s in 2023, though planning is already
underway for $34 million in new construction to prepare for
The Guard says it needs a
19,000-square-foot building to house four F-35 flight
simulators, which would be used to train pilots on the new
aircraft. In addition, the unit needs new shelters to house the
115th Fighter Wing's four existing F-16s, which will support the
unit's national defense mission while the existing shelter will
house the new F-35s.
The U.S. Air Force is considering
plans to station a squadron of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field
in Madison, two of which can be seen in the hangar above. If
approved, the Air National Guard has plans to begin construction
next fall on new hangars and a building to house four flight
Capt. Leslie Westmont,
spokeswoman for the fighter wing, said funding for those
projects would not be available unless the base receives final
approval for the F-35s.
Construction would begin next
fall, but city staff have suggested the National Guard can't
"safely and legally" start construction without a
complete site investigation to determine the extent and nature
of contamination from chemicals known as PFAS that are
associated with firefighting foam long used in training and have
triggered the shutdown of a city well near the airport.
In the Air Force's first round of
basing decisions, the Vermont Air National Guard was selected as
the first guard unit to receive F-35s, in spite of resolutions
from three host communities — Burlington, South Burlington and
Winooski — asking for reconsideration.
The first two F-35s arrived in
Burlington earlier this month, with 18 more scheduled for
delivery in the weeks to come.
Their arrival came just two weeks
after a resident there asked the Air Force to conduct a
supplemental environmental study based on revelations that the
original study underestimated the use of afterburners, which
dramatically increase the noise when the jets take off.
In several environmental studies,
including Madison's, the National Guard says it will use
afterburners on fewer than 5% of takeoffs, compared to about 60%
with the current F-16s.
But Roseanne Greco, a retired Air
Force colonel and former Burlington city council member who has
opposed the F-35s, received a leaked email from an environmental
compliance officer at the Davis-Monthan base in Tucson who said
Air Force lawyers want noise studies based on higher percentages
of afterburner use.
"They know this has been a
problem for years and years and years," Greco said.
Greco said even if afterburners
are used 10% of the time it could significantly change the
number of homes exposed to intolerable noise levels.
"The Air Force has to tell
us," she said. "They're required under NEPA (the
National Environmental Policy Act) to tell people when there's a
chance of a significant impact."
Greco spoke by phone from her
home about five miles from the Burlington airport, where that
city's first F-35s could be heard in the background.
"It looks like they're doing
a flyover," she said. "That's nice."