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Fighter Jets

Minorities, children and lower-income communities on Madison’s East Side would be disproportionately affected if the city’s Air National Guard base is chosen to house the newest class of fighter jets, according to a new draft report.

The draft environmental impact study found that if Truax Field becomes the new home for F-35 fighter jets, the impacts would largely affect the communities south and east of the base.

“All that noise from those jets is pretty intense. If that’s your daily routine,” the effects would be severe, said Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District, who represents the area southwest of Truax Field. “It’s a public health issue.”

The draft report showed that not only would noise disturbances increase from what residents already experience from F-16 fighter jets currently flown at the base, but the area affected by noise also would expand by more than 1,000 acres, including nearly 200 acres that could potentially be deemed no longer suitable for residential use.

The initial report was only a draft of the environmental impact findings, and some community members are optimistic about further exploring the possible impacts.

“I think it’s important for us to engage our community,” said Ald. Syed Abbas, whose 12th District includes Truax Field. Abbas said he wants to continue analyzing what the impacts on the community would mean. “I don’t want to be hopeless.”

“It’s going to be a group effort” said Chris Arnez, executive director of Badger Air Community Council, a nonprofit that supports the Wisconsin Air National Guard 115th Fighter Wing. Arnez said he believes that “mitigation is possible” to minimize the affects on surrounding areas, especially the marginalized communities.

“It’s important to us, it’s important to our community,” he said.

The report also found that military operations at the base would increase initially by 47%, eventually dropping to a 27% increase, and a 3% increase in overall air traffic, but it did not show any significant negative impacts on safety, air pollution, local air traffic or hazardous waste management.

Madison learned in 2016 that it was one of the potential bases for the new jets. Originally, 18 bases were considered, but the search has been narrowed down to five, including bases in Alabama, Idaho, Florida and Michigan.

Heather Wilson, who served as secretary of the Air Force from May 2017 to May 2019, has said that of the five locations, she prefers the Madison and Alabama bases. The two bases were the only ones that showed the potential to disproportionately impact marginalized populations.

None of the locations have all of the required facilities and infrastructure to house the jets, and each would need construction or modification, according to the report.

Community backlash started shortly after Madison was announced as a possible home for the jets, but supporters say economic growth from the expanded base operations outweighs the impact of the added noise. The draft environmental impact report found that there would likely be no significant change to the economy, and only up to 64 military personnel would be added at the base.

Not all neighbors to the base are concerned about noise from the fighter jets.

“I’m 76 and I haven’t suffered any adverse affects from it,” said Diane Calhoun, who lives in Hawthorne neighborhood, just south of Truax. “If a person’s concerned by this, don’t buy a house here.”

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