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Wisconsin official calls for extension of public comments on F-35s at Truax

An F-35 Lightning II flies away from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 18, 2019.

BRIAN FERGUSON/STARS AND STRIPES

By EMILY HAMER | The (Madison) Wisconsin State Journal | Published: September 24, 2019

MADISON, Wis. (Tribune News Service) — Citing unanswered questions about the economic and noise impacts of bringing F-35 jets to Madison, state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, on Monday called for an extra 60 days for public comments on the potential fighter jet placement at Truax Field.

The current deadline is Friday for community members to share their opinions online on the Air Force’s 1,099-page environmental impact statement, which outlines several adverse effects from the planes.

The Air Force has identified Madison and Montgomery, Ala., as the preferred sites for two more squadrons of the new $90 million jets. But many residents are staunchly opposed because the impact statement concluded the jets would cause increased noise for nearby neighborhoods — including some schools — and would have a disproportionate impact on low-income residents and people of color.

The Madison City Council has asked the Air Force potentially to reconsider Truax Field as a preferred location and 15 Dane County supervisors have signed a letter opposing the jets.

At a news conference Monday, Taylor said the public needs more time to weigh in because of information missing from the draft of the environmental impact study. Some of Taylor’s constituents would be affected by the jets.

She said she sent a letter to the Air Force asking for the 60-day extension. Marsha Rummel, alder for the 6th District, also called for an extension.

Taylor said residents need to know how the jets will affect property values, other possible impacts on the local economy, what the peak noise levels would be and how often afterburners — a part of the jets’ engines that provides extra thrust and significantly more noise on takeoff — will be used.

“The people deserve to have these questions answered so that we can respond,” Taylor said.

The city estimates more than 1,300 homes would be subject to average daily noise above 65 decibels. That’s roughly the same level of disruption as a vacuum cleaner running all the time.

But that’s not how people actually experience aircraft noise.

During the few seconds the jets take to pass overhead, the noise can reach 110 decibels or more — about 16 times louder than a vacuum cleaner — the equivalent of being at a loud rock concert or standing next to a car horn.

The draft environmental impact study does not specify the exact peak noise levels, and retired Air Force colonel Roseanne Greco, who has opposed the F-35s, said the study also underestimates the use of afterburners, which can increase the noise dramatically.

In several environmental studies, including Madison’s, the National Guard has said it will use afterburners on fewer than 5% of takeoffs, compared with about 60% with the current F-16s.

Greco — who is also a former city council member in Burlington, Vt., where F-35 jets began arriving this week despite years of opposition from residents — said because of the way F-35s are designed, afterburners would need to be used much more often than claimed.

Even if afterburners are used 10% of the time, Greco said, it could change significantly the number of homes exposed to intolerable noise levels. She said her town in Vermont also was told afterburners would not be used often.

“The people of Madison are being told some of the very same lies the people of Vermont were told,” Greco said.

Greco said another concern not covered in the impact study is whether the jets will be able to carry nuclear weapons, which Rummel said could make Madison a target. Greco said that although the jets would not be nuclear-capable immediately, they could be in the future.

Rummel said Madison residents need clarity on these questions so they can give feedback with full knowledge of how the jets actually will affect their neighborhoods.

“I don’t accept that we’re going to sacrifice the north and east sides of Madison for this military improvement of flights,” Rummel said. “We should ask to have 60 more days.”

©2019 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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