Minutes before a news conference by local and state leaders opposing the basing of F-35 fighter jets in Madison was to start Thursday, a series of five F-16 jets en route to land at Truax Field flew right over the East Side park where everyone was gathered, sending a loud, piercing noise throughout the area.
“Now we heard those jets fly over just a couple minutes ago, and that was loud, but they get much louder than that,” Omar Poler, an Eken Park neighborhood resident, said at Washington Manor Park. “What we’re facing here is not noise, it’s harm.”
Madison City Council members, Dane County Board supervisors, state legislators and residents of neighborhoods surrounding the Dane County Regional Airport where the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Truax Field is based continued to decry the siting of a squadron of F-35 fighter jets in the city.
“This neighborhood and neighborhoods around this area — North Side, East Side — it’s family-oriented neighborhoods,” said City Council President Syed Abbas, 12th District. “It is extremely painful while you sit in your own house to listen to these planes. The house rattles, literally. This is an environmental justice situation.”
Last year, the Air Force chose the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing as the host of a squadron of the $90 million F-35 jets. The first jets are expected to arrive in 2023 and are set to replace the current fleet of 1980s-model F-16s.
Boosters of the squadron have touted the economic impact of up to $120 million in construction projects and dozens of new jobs associated with the jets.
Maj. Joe Trovato, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Air National Guard, said in an email the 115th Fighter Wing is “100 percent committed to being good neighbors.” He said the new generation of fighter jets would help secure the future of the base and its hundreds of jobs for decades.
“We understand that some in the community have valid concerns, but our hope is that we can work together as a community to address those concerns to ensure that bringing the F-35 to Madison is a win for everyone in the community,” he said.
While deep opposition remains, particularly around pollution and noise opponents say will disproportionately affect low-income people and communities of color living around the airport, it’s unclear what — if any — action could stall or stop the jets arriving.
Environmental concerns stem from contamination of toxic “forever chemicals,” known as PFAS, at the airport where firefighters have used fluorinated foams for decades, and advocates worry construction could further disburse PFAS.
A contract to construct a $9 million, 19,000-square-foot F-35 simulation facility was awarded in April. Trovato said initial site prep for that facility is underway, but “they have not yet broken ground on the facility.”
State Rep. Francesca Hong, D-Madison, said the COVID-19 pandemic took momentum away from the community organizing opposition to the jets but she sees it reemerging now.
“We want to ensure that we represent the people who will be most harmed by these jets,” Hong said. “It’s important they have a platform, a voice and a continued pathway to know that there’s ways to fight this, and we won’t stop.”
Dane County Sup. Yogesh Chawla and five other supervisors last month introduced a resolution that would:
- Direct the county’s attorney to explore legal options for regulating construction at the airport.
- Require public disclosure of tests and results for PFAS.
- Examine options to halt construction if PFAS tests come back above certain thresholds.
The resolution would also state the County Board’s opposition to basing the jets in Madison. But with the decision on where the F-35s go in the hands of the military, the statement would be purely symbolic.
“The actionable items in the resolution really emphasize public disclosure of information and asking our county’s legal office to provide us with legal options of what we can do,” Chawla said. “I think the community just needs to keep the pressure on.”
Know Your Madisonian 2021: Profiles from the Wisconsin State Journal's weekly series
They're your neighbors, co-workers or friends you may not have met yet. And they all have a story to tell.
Lessner started out in the laundromat business when he was about 10 years old helping his dad.
The Madison Police Department's new public information officer Tyler Grigg wants to be timely, open and maybe even a little creative in his new position.
Rowan Childs, 44, wanted to fill her home with books for her own children to enjoy but knew not all children are able to have the same experience.
“I did find my passion," says Sally Zirbel-Donisch, "... it was working with not only students and families but staff and partners in the community."
In 1992, Kathy Kuntz enrolled in UW-Madison, expecting to earn a PhD in history, but it was a temp job as a receptionist at a nonprofit that led her into what would become a career in energy.
Michael Graf has written five screenplays: "Winter of Frozen Dreams," "The Last Indian War," "Throwing Hammers," "Venice of America" and "Picket Charlie," a just-finished environmental action picture tackling climate change.
A poll worker and volunteer interviewer for the Fire Department, Pranee Sheskey says she enjoys being part of making democracy work.
John Adams and Michael Moody founded the nonprofit Catalyst for Change in January 2020 to eliminate human suffering one life at a time by placing human dignity and development at the forefront of poverty, addiction and homelessness.
Harambee Village Doulas is trying to improve infant mortality, maternal health.
For more than two decades, the Droids Attack front man has refurbished games at his business Aftershock Retrogames. Now, he's looking to open an arcade bar.
Tiffany Olson owns 120 plants, a Willy Street greenhouse store and a loving Havanese named Mia.
Matt Reetz has spent years studying birds, doing postdoctoral research around the United States, Australia, the Caribbean and southern Chile.
Tony Gomez-Phillips' prairie-inspired planting connects Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture with a garden style that embodies his views of nature and how it interacts with humans.
Since 1962, the McCann family name led efforts to make sure Hilldale shopping center is clean and safe. Now Tom McCann has retired to fish, hunt turkeys and catch Dungeness crabs.
Out Health, run by Dr. Kathy Oriel, is in a former dentist's office on University Avenue.
Ken Fager turned pandemic boredom into a popular public art campaign of 3D-printed miniature state Capitols placed throughout Downtown.
Teresa Holmes became Madison Rotary Club president in July.
Sedric Morris is Madison School District's new director of safety and security. His wife, Yolanda Shelton-Morris, is community resources manager in the city's Community Development Division.
This month, Magney announced he will be departing from the WEC to join VoteRiders, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization with the goal of ensuring that voter ID laws don't prevent qualified citizens from voting.
Omar Anguiano, founder of La Barra 608, cheers on his team and his group's community service mission.
American Family Children's Hospital's first facility dog was trained in Georgia and likes snuggling and Goldfish crackers.