The Air Force may make a decision on where to base the F-35 fighter planes as soon as this week. Last week, our City Council went on record with strong opposition to basing F-35s at Truax Field here in Madison. The vote to oppose was 13-5. There is also a resolution before the Dane County Board. The Safe Skies Clean Water Coalition has just notified the Air Force of forthcoming legal challenges if they choose Madison.
Way back at the end of February, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway also took a stand against siting the F-35 fighter jets in Madison. Her statement got very little attention. It came out just before the coronavirus catastrophe unfolded across the country.
The Air Force decision-makers surely notice the statements of local elected officials. For instance, Boise, Idaho and Burlington, Vermont were also short-listed for the F-35 jets. Burlington became a base for the F-35s last year, in spite of lots of local resistance. But the city's mayor, Miro Weinberger, was a supporter of bringing the jets to their city.
Boise’s mayor, Lauren McLean, opposed hosting the jets. She said, “I am fully supportive of and deeply grateful for the important work the members of the United States Military do every day to serve and protect our country. However, I remain firm in my commitment to not invest tax dollars in pushing for a new mission at Gowen Field that may have a negative environmental impact on our residents.” Boise appears to have been dropped from consideration by the Air Force.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway's blog post on the F-35s made her opposition clear. She urged the Air Force to acknowledge the severe impacts identified in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) they produced. She said: “What is the point of assessing environmental impacts if those impacts are found to be severe and then they go ignored? The final report indicates that there are lesser environmental impacts at three alternative sites. I recognize that a decision will be made by the USAF whether or not the City of Madison has any opinion on this matter, but I urge the Secretary of the Air Force to be true to the purpose and intent of the NEPA law.”
I want to raise up our mayor’s sensible stand. I hope that our mayor’s analysis and our City Council’s vote will convince Sen. Tammy Baldwin to review the EIS. Baldwin has been a key supporter of bringing the F-35 jets to Truax Field in Madison. Baldwin should withdraw her support for bringing the jets here. Further, she should call for a major reallocation of military funding and personnel to meet emergency medical needs.
The formidable opposition to siting the F-35s in Dane County is justified. Construction to prepare for the war planes, as well as their flights, would poison our water and soil, hurt our economy, and cause disproportionate harm to low-income families, children and people of color who live and go to school in the neighborhoods nearest the airport. The damage would be paid for by local government and homeowners.
Every day during this coronavirus lockdown, my seven-year-old daughter and I take a walk and enjoy spring. We are grateful for the many essential employees that we see out helping. Fire fighters and EMTs. Home health workers and bus drivers. Workers on the big, green sewer vacuum trucks.
With equal gratitude, I salute Mayor Rhodes-Conway, our alders and our county supervisors, for brave leadership in the face of the pandemic. Through it all, they are working to protect vulnerable people and to prevent the Air Force from making a decision on F-35s that would harm Dane County long into the future.
Janet Parker is a mother and gardener in Madison.
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