More than 1,000 homes near Truax Field could be “incompatible for residential use” because of heightened noise levels if a new fighter jet program is placed there, according to a draft report compiled by the U.S. Air Force and National Guard Bureau.
The draft report outlines areas where the daily average noise level would reach about 70 decibels — about as loud as a vacuum cleaner — or up to 75 decibels. The noise wouldn’t be a constant buzz, but rather dramatic increases as jets pass by, up to about 110 decibels — about as loud as a rock concert.
About 200 acres of residential land near Truax Field, where the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing is based, is expected to be brought above the 65-decibel threshold that the draft report described as unsuitable for residential use. More than 130 homes closest to the military facility located at the Dane County Regional Airport would likely be above a 70-decibel threshold average.
The draft report mentions potential for noise mitigation, including sound insulation through a voluntary program by the Federal Aviation Administration, but it does not offer guarantees of whether that would be provided in Madison. The sound level of the planes is well below the level that would cause hearing loss, according to the draft report.
The Carpenter-Ridgeway neighborhood, tucked between East Washington Avenue to the south and Truax Field to the north, is expected to be most affected by the change in noise levels, according to maps in the draft report. But increased noise levels are expected as far south as Thurber Park, past the intersection of Fair Oaks Avenue and Highway 30.
Several residents of the Carpenter-Ridgeway neighborhood said they didn’t know how much they would be affected by the F-35 program.
Martin Poredos, 55, lives near the airport and said he doesn’t have enough information about the F-35 program to form an opinion about it.
“I just don’t know what increased noise means,” Poredos said.
Darlene Rodel, 85, who has lived at her home in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, said the F-16 fighter jets currently flown at the base don’t bother her.
“I enjoy watching them,” Rodel said, adding that she doesn’t believe the louder jets would bother her either.
Some residents near the airport have complained that the F-16s are already loud and disruptive, forcing conversations to stop until the jets pass.
State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, whose district includes the area south of the airport, raised concerns about what would happen to residents living closest to the airport. The draft report found that area is home to many people of color and people with low incomes.
Madison learned in 2016 that it was a potential base for the new jets. Eighteen bases were considered, but the search has been narrowed down to five, including bases in Alabama, Idaho, Florida and Michigan. Madison and Alabama have been identified by the military as preferred sites.
The F-35 program was billed by elected officials as an economic boon for the city. The draft report states up to 64 additional military jobs might be added as well as some shorter-term construction jobs while facilities are being upgraded.
“I just really question is 64 or 65 jobs ... really worth it to displace people?” Taylor said. “Is it really worth it to disrupt the quality of life for these people?”
The planes wouldn’t just be louder in these areas, but they would also fly more frequently, according to the draft report. Following complete installation of all 18 F-35s and two backup planes at the airport, the airport would see about a 27% increase in operations for the fighter wing. In the shorter term, while the F-16s are being phased out, there will be an increase of 47%.
Taylor — along with Madison Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District, and Dane County Sup. Yogesh Chawla, who both represent parts of Madison’s East Side — is calling for more information and public awareness about the extent of the noise impacts. In a statement Friday, they encouraged residents to attend a Sept. 12 public meeting at the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall. Residents can also comment online at www.angf35eis.com/Comments.aspx through Sept. 27.
Ald. Syed Abbas, 12th district, who represents parts of the East and North sides, said he wants to get more information before he takes an official stance on the jets. His main questions involve whether or how flight patterns could be changed to reduce noise impact and how different the sound level would be compared to the current F-16 flights.
“I am investigating possibilities to protect and help communities and residents around Truax, especially low-income communities who have less access to advocates working on their behalf,” Abbas said in a blog post.