Madison residents expressed concern Wednesday over the plan to place a squadron of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field.
A few dozen people filled the East Madison Community Center for a listening session hosted by local lawmakers where a lot of issues centered around noise, but some people were worried about potential environmental and safety implications of stationing the high-tech aircraft at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s base.
“The F-16s fly over my house. If I were still young and strong, I could probably take a baseball and hit them ... not that I’m going to,” said Ed Blume. “They’re roaring. They’re just deafening.”
Maria Powell, president of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization, said she questions how the F-35s could impact the nearby Starkweather Creek, wetlands and surrounding wildlife.
Others, though, saw benefits to bringing the jets to Madison.
Paul Volkmann, an East Side resident, said that jets have been flying out of the area for decades and that a few instances of irritation from the noise are a trade-off for having the security of the base nearby.
Sam Skar, a teacher at a school near the airport with a high percentage of low-income students, said she’s seen children negatively impacted by the noise of fighter jets flying above.
“It’s about the people with low income who did choose, but didn’t have many choices, and living on a flight path is cheaper,” Skar said.
In December, Madison was selected as one of two preferred options for F-35 squadrons, with three alternative sites in consideration. A squadron of 18 F-35s, along with an active-duty Air Force unit, is planned to arrive in Madison in early 2023.
Several City Council and Dane County Board members who represent the area surrounding the North Side airbase attended the meeting to gauge residents’ questions and concerns.
Jeff Wiegand, the former commander of the Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field, said he expects there to be minimal difference with the new generation of fighter jets.
“There’ll be very little change or impact to the community — similar aircraft, similar noise, similar weapons, similar mission,” Wiegand said.
The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and local politicians have touted the economic benefit and job security that making Madison home to a squadron of the aircraft could bring.
Blume, who runs a Facebook group against bringing F-35s to the city, said he is skeptical about the economic impact of the jets.
Sup. Dennis O’Loughlin, who sits on the county’s Airport Commission, said the Air National Guard mans and pays for a fire department at the Dane County Regional Airport that the county would otherwise have to fund.
A public comment period is underway for the federally required environmental impact statement that the Air National Guard will complete. The deadline to submit comments is April 6.
Air Force officials will hold a meeting from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 8 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4402 E. Washington Ave., where residents can hear about the plan and submit written questions and concerns.