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Air Force urged to extend Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson runway, avoid increasing jet noise

Two F/A-18E Super Hornets taxi down the ramp at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, on May 3, 2017.

JOHN GORDINIER/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By DEVIN KELLY | The Alaska Dispatch News (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 25, 2017

A group of Mountain View, Ala. residents urged U.S. Air Force officials Wednesday night to pursue a roughly $150 million runway extension at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as a means of avoiding more jet noise, a thorny issue that has disrupted classroom teaching and frayed nerves in the neighborhood over the years.

Air Force officials have proposed changes in how F-22 Raptor fighter jets take off and land on JBER's runways. The goal is to give pilots more training airtime and reduce congestion in the airspace, officials say.

A runway extension, with its hefty price tag, would involve moving huge amounts of earth and wetlands, Air Force officials said. But neighbors praised it as a long-term solution they said would bolster the Air Force and help efforts to improve the quality of life in one of Anchorage's poorer neighborhoods.

"The runway noise is just unbelievable sometimes," said Claudia Fielding, who has lived in Mountain View since 2013. "I really am concerned about our children, and the decibel levels."

Fielding was among about 15 people who testified to Air Force officials at a formal hearing Wednesday night at Clark Middle School on a draft environmental impact statement for the runway proposals.

The document shows officials leaning toward a proposal to increase the number of F-22 departures from south to north. Because of various restrictions, F-22 Raptor pilots take off to the north roughly one-third of the time, though that's the runway that maximizes training time for pilots, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

Wing commander Col. Christopher Niemi said the Air Force needs to be able to defend the Alaska airspace and support military commanders worldwide, including in the Middle East and, if needed, in the South Pacific.

Directing more F-22 departures to the existing, shorter runway would mean more jet noise for more than 400 people in Mountain View. The noise would disproportionately affect minority and low-income residents, the environmental document says. At the hearing, officials stressed the increased noise won't come from jets flying in directly over Mountain View, but from the early moments of jets taking off north, away from the neighborhood.

Alternatively, military officials have proposed extending its north-south runway to the north. That would move the jet departures farther from the neighborhood, taking away the noise impact while resolving a number of issues with Air Force operations, officials said.

But building another 2,500 feet of runway would cost the federal government roughly $150 million, Matthew Smith, Air Force project manager for the environmental analysis, said at Wednesday's hearing. He said an exact amount hasn't yet been determined, nor has a contract to scope the work been awarded.

State Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said military planes had long been disruptive to classroom teaching in Mountain View. She said the Air Force and Alaska's congressional delegation should be thinking about the long term, and suggested officials push for an extended runway.

Resident Donald Crandall ticked off the parts of the neighborhood that had seen more than $1 million of investment in the past decade: Two new schools, a library and dozens of businesses fixing up storefronts.

"I'd hate to see that degraded by something that's out of our control," Crandall said, adding that he'd support a runway extension.

Crandall also said the recent remodel of Mountain View Elementary School to improve sound insulation shouldn't encourage the Air Force to move forward with programs that worsen noise.

Resident Neva Reece urged Air Force officials to take noise samples directly from Mountain View instead of relying on models and data collected on base.

Another resident supporting the runway extension, Paul Palinski, said he'd flown in combat himself and recognized the need for training aircrews.

"Congress blows enough money as it is and can certainly afford another $150 million – it's no big deal to them," Palinski said.

January Grizzell was among the longtime residents who said she strongly supported the military and enjoyed seeing the planes. But the explosion of two propane tanks in her house several ago had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. She's nearly 70, she told officials, and dreaded the idea of more noise.

One man spotted a business opportunity. Ryan Kennedy came to the meeting with a sample of a reinforced window aimed at insulating noise. He told the Air Force officials he'd be interested in installing the windowpanes if officials did move forward with a plan that led to amplified noise.

The Wednesday hearing at Clark Middle School was the only one of its kind. Members of the public can still submit comments through the project website, www.jberf22eis.com, by emailing comments to jber.pa.3@us.af.mil, or by mail to the JBER public affairs office at Bldg. 10480 Sijan Ave, Suite 123, JBER, AK 9950.

Officials say comments have to be received or postmarked by Sept. 19. A final report is expected next year.

Radhika Krishna, the community development manager at the nonprofit Anchorage Community Land Trust, told military officials Wednesday night the hearing was difficult for many residents to attend, because of language barriers, child care and a lack of familiarity with the military's process for reviewing plans.

The Mountain View Community Council is expected to discuss the Air Force proposals at a future meeting.

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©2017 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)
Visit the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska) at www.adn.com
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