After a six-month delay, the National Guard Bureau has released a draft report on the possible environmental impacts of basing F-35 fighter jets at Truax Airfield.
And while the report found that there would be "no significant impacts" on resources from air to soil to cultural landmarks, it did contain some vindication for those concerned about noise pollution from the jets.
“Based on context and intensity, the change in the noise environment associated with the Proposed Action would be considered significant in the area surrounding the airfield,” the report asserts.
Critics and proponents of the plane alike have been waiting on the release of the environmental impact statement ever since the National Guard initially declared Truax a finalist for the next round of F-35 basing in December of 2017. The Air National Guard is required to draft the report by the National Environmental Protection Act before the secretary of the Air Force can officially approve the basing.
The National Guard Bureau originally slated the report to be published in February. However, the release got pushed back due to “internal staffing and deliberation,” according to a National Guard spokesperson.
The gargantuan 1,099-page report covers not just the basing of 18 jets at Truax, but F-35 basings in four other locations around the country. It assesses 13 potential forms of environmental impact — including noise pollution, socioeconomic consequences, water pollution, and children’s health — that could occur not just from flying F-35s at each base, but from the construction of new facilities and the maintenance of the jets.
The report estimates that an extra 2,215 people would be exposed to sound levels that would be above-average compared to the general population, thanks to the F-35 basing. It also suggests that the jets could cause an increase in “speech-interfering events” at various points, and could cause “classroom learning interference” at Lake View Elementary School and at Richardson School, a special-needs learning facility.
The report adds that the significant increase in noise pollution would disproportionately impact minority and low-income populations, and would also disproportionately impact children. It noted that the noise conditions would render about 199 acres of land “potentially incompatible for residential use.”
The report found that there would be “no significant impact” on air quality, safety, socioeconomics, water, soil, biological resources, or risk from hazardous materials at the site.
The F-35 jets have been a source of contention in Madison for a variety of reasons. Many residents in the Truax and surrounding neighborhoods have expressed upset over noise, both from the current squadron of F-16 jets at the Air National Guard base there, and from the potentially noisier F-35s. Others have expressed concerns about the potential for chemical runoff at a site that already under fire for groundwater contamination, or over the fundamentally militaristic nature of the jets.
Proponents, most prominently the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, have argued for the F-35 basing on economic development grounds, saying that the F-35 basing would help keep thousands of jobs in Madison.
Together Truaxx and the Badger Air Community Council, a community group advocating for the 115th Fighter Wing that’s based at Truax, released a joint statement encouraging the public to “stay engaged” with the EIS process.
“The release of the Draft EIS is the next step in a very deliberative review process that identified the 115th Fighter Wing as the preferred alternative over 17 other Air National Guard bases in the country,” wrote Chris Arenz, the executive director of the BACC.
Chris Arenz, the executive director of the Badger Air Community Council, said he was happy the report was out, and that it found that impact would be negligible in most categories. He said it presents the opportunity to begin talking about mitigation measures.
"Obviously, the standout piece of the report is the noise," he said.
Arenz also noted that the report's sound level estimates were on the high side due to assumptions it made about F-35 takeoff and landing patterns. The former F16 pilot added he was confident that Truax would be able to take meaningful noise abatement measures.
Opponents of the F-35 basing did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The release of the draft marks the beginning of a public comment period lasting through Sept. 27. There will be an open house and public meeting at the Alliant Energy Center regarding the draft report on Sept. 12.