Unlike most of those who came to a community meeting on Madison’s North Side Wednesday night to discuss the Air Force’s plans to host a new class of fighter jets at the Air National Guard base at Truax Field, Dawn Cunningham was on the fence.
But after hearing one speaker after another decry the jets and the added noise they could bring, Cunningham, who lives in the Carpenter-Ridgeway Neighborhood just south of the airport, said she left with more concerns than she had going in and plans to attend another forum Thursday night at the Alliant Energy Center.
“After the meeting I feel more concerned about the increased noise levels of the actual flights,” she said, adding she would like to witness and hear some flights herself before making up her mind. “If I were to advocate for anything right now, I would advocate for that.”
About 200 people, mostly residents of the East and North Side neighborhoods represented by the three aldermen who called the meeting, came to the meeting at Sherman Middle School. The turnout prompted organizers to move the meeting from the cafeteria to the gymnasium.
Almost all the speakers opposed the plan.
Deborah Lofgren, who held her 6-month-old granddaughter in her arms, said the child already cries when F-16s, the current class of fighter jets based at Truax, fly overhead.
Supporters, including U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, former governors Scott Walker and Jim Doyle and state lawmakers from the area say landing the F-35s would ensure the Madison base remains essential to the national defense and protect it from future base closings. The base currently provides some 1,200 permanent jobs representing about $100 million in annual economic activity.
The Air Force announced in December 2017 that Truax was one of two preferred sites for the new jets. The other is Montgomery, Alabama’s Dannelly Field.
But many speakers at Wednesday’s forum, and the aldermen who called the meeting, expressed concern about the impact the louder jets would have on neighborhoods surrounding the Dane County Regional Airport.
An Air Force environmental impact study found that basing the F-35 jets in Madison would result in additional military flights and noise that could render more than 1,000 nearby homes “incompatible for residential use.”
A separate city staff report released this week clarified that “incompatible” doesn’t mean uninhabitable but rather is a Federal Aviation Administration designation that allows residents to seek federal funding for noise mitigation. Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce and a supporter of the project, has said previously that such studies typically consider the worst case and often overstate the impact.
Ald. Grant Foster, whose 15th District includes one of the areas that would be most affected by the noise, said at the meeting that he plans to co-author a resolution opposing basing the jets in Madison, to be introduced at the City Council later this month.
Ald. Rebecca Kemble, who represents the 18th district on the North Side, said she planned to join the resolution, which will focus on the potential disproportionate effect the plane could have on minority and low-income neighborhoods. She said there is no guarantee residents in those areas would receive noise mitigation help.
“We’re powerless, and the effects are so great we can’t support the siting of the F-35s here,” she said.
Mark-Anthony Whitaker, who lives in an apartment at 328 Kedzie St., was one of the few renters in attendance when asked for a show of hands. He said he also is concerned about how “black people like me” will be disproportionately affected.
Ald. Marsha Rummel, who represents the 6th District and helped organize the meeting, urged the audience to write to Baldwin, Johnson and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth.
State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who said she had had a “very informative meeting” with representatives of the Air National Guard earlier in the day, disputed the notion that the F-35s are necessary to keep Truax Field viable for the long term.
“Truax is an important strategic base & F-16 program is not going away anytime soon should F-35 not come,” Taylor tweeted after the meeting, adding that maps showing which areas could be most affected “may be worst case scenario but may be best case scenario. Meaning it’s possible additional areas could be impacted by intense noise.”
Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!
Stay up-to-date on the latest in local and national government and political topics with our newsletter.