Air Force will bring urban training to Boise – and some residents are fighting back
By RUTH BROWN | The Idaho Statesman | Published: April 27, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — A group of Boise residents has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, opposing the new urban warfare training program set to happen over the city and the surrounding area.
The case, filed April 1 in federal court, challenges the "Urban Close Air Support Air and Ground Training Project." The project would establish a permanent military training program that centers over nine cities and towns in Southern Idaho, from Boise to Burley, according to the complaint.
Concerned residents met in Boise last year to discuss the proposal, which would include the use of F-15E fighter jets.
The lawsuit claims that the project would "authorize thousands of annual overflights of F-15 military jets, coupled with on-the-ground troop activity within the cities, occurring day and night for up to 160 days per year."
The nine affected sites are Boise, Mountain Home, Burley, Twin Falls, Grandview, Bruneau, Glenns Ferry, Hammett and the Mountain Home Air Force Base, according to previous reports by the Statesman.
Since a finding of no significant impact was issued Nov. 7 by the Air Force, after it performed an environmental assessment, there has been one training operation, and that took place over Mountain Home, said 2nd Lt. Emileigh Rogers, an Air Force public information officer.
The lawsuit was filed by the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national nonprofit that claims to inspire activism to preserve and protect wild lands and wilderness, and several plaintiffs who are represented by Advocates for the West: Anne Hausrath, John Wheaton, Joanie Fauci, Meg Fereday, Roger Rosentretter, Kathy Railsback and Dale Reynolds. Hausrath is a former Boise City Council member.
The 31-page complaint alleges that the urban training project, approved by the Air Force, would endanger the health, safety and quality of life for Idahoans, as well as birds and wildlife. It outlines disruptive jet noise interfering with sleep cycles and recreation.
The Air Force has not filed a response to the complaint but has 60 days to do so from April 1.
The plaintiffs allege that the Air Force did not prepare a full environmental impact statement, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
They also claim that the environmental assessment done by the Air Force and the finding of no significant impact did not take into consideration the effect the operations would have on numerous popular recreation areas: the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, the Intermountain Bird Observatory and several other locations.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that the Air Force "failed to consider whether differences in housing characteristics may cause greater indoor noise impacts on low-income communities."
The lawsuit asks the court to remand the matter to the Air Force with instructions to prepare a full environmental impact statement. The plaintiffs also ask that their attorney fees and litigation expenses be paid.
One of the plaintiffs, Railsback, is an immigration attorney who has worked with refugees coming from countries where urban warfare is a reality, and she said she is especially concerned about this type of training having an impact on the refugee population and veterans.
She's worked with trauma victims and refugees from war-torn countries.
"I see the impacts on a very human level," Railsback told the Statesman. "People having to leave their homes, people losing their loved ones, losing spouses, losing children. I see both the immediate effects of the military action and the longer-term effects."
She also said veterans in America might be triggered by the simulated combat exercises.
"My ultimate hope would be that the Air Force would reconsider and realize it's not a good idea to practice, to do simulated bombing, in a densely populated area," Railsback said.
Advocates for the West attorney Sarah Stellberg told the Statesman that she has concerns about the Air Force's transparency and communication
"They've sort of created the appearance that there's something to hide," she said. "And I think hopefully the lawsuit will remove that barrier for people, that discomfort, and provide sort of a better channel of communication and remove the unease for people about the military coming into our local community and acting as though we're enemy territory. That's something I hope to gain – a better relationship between the city and its residents and the Air Force."
The Air Force said it would not comment on pending litigation but did talk to the Statesman about some of the training operation plans.
Maj. Dave Bervig explained that the F-15s would be flown at 10,000 to 18,000 feet, or at least 2 miles up, and he did not believe the noise would be of great concern to civilians.
For comparison, Bervig noted that when commercial airliners with the same size engine as an F-15 fly at that altitude, commercial pilots can turn off the "fasten seat belt" sign for passengers. At that point, people on the ground generally can't hear the airplane.
"It's a challenging and dynamic training in the urban environment," Berving said about the operations.
Bervig said the training is necessary so that the crew in the air is prepared to provide support to real operations overseas.
There will be some ground crews used in the training, known as joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, but Air Force Maj. Michael Twining told the Statesman that the crews will be in "civilian-type vehicles" and not in city limits with military vehicles.
Twining said the ground crews could be on public streets, parked alongside the road, and might exit vehicles to communicate with airmen, but will not be invasive to the community.
"They are trying to be subtle," Twining said about ground crews. "(When they) move through the community, the community should not even know the training is happening."
Air Force members have said local law enforcement has been made aware of the training and hasn't taken issue with the ground crews.
Boise city spokesman Mike Journee said when the city first learned of the training operations proposal, the city did reach out to the Air Force for more information. The city is not a party in the lawsuit.
"It was something that at first glance created a little bit of concern," Journee said. "But the information we got back was that they were comfortable that it wasn't going to be a disruption for residents."
The city ultimately decided the training wasn't something it would oppose, "but we are going to be paying close attention to it," Journee told the Statesman.
A court hearing is scheduled for July 11 in Boise.
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