To their credit and with bipartisan support, Wisconsin’s leaders in Washington helped land the military’s most advanced fighter jets at Truax Field on Madison’s North Side last spring. A squadron of F-35s is set to replace aging F-16s in 2023, ensuring the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing stays here.
Now our state’s congressional delegation — especially U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh — need to make sure homes near the runways get some relief from additional noise if the new jets are louder.
The U.S. House of Representatives in July approved a Defense bill with $50 million for sound-mitigation grants to communities affected by the F-35s. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, Wisconsin’s sole member of the House Appropriations Committee, pressed his colleagues to include the money.
Other communities with F-35s would be able to apply for grants, too. But Madison appears well positioned to receive a significant portion. And rightly so.
That’s because an Air Force study suggested the 115th could expose more than 1,000 homes to higher sound levels, and about half of those residences — mostly mobile homes and low-income apartments — won’t qualify for money to insulate their buildings through a Federal Aviation Administration program, according to a city analysis.
“If they’re creating a problem for homes,” Pocan told our State Journal editorial board this month, “my theory is: You break it, you bought it. Right? You should have to provide some assistance to those folks.”
Some of the federal money could pay for a noise study to determine the impact of the F-35s, which has been debated for years. The Air Force study estimated the F-35s would be about 5 decibels louder than the current F-16s on takeoff. But it generally takes a change of about 3 decibels for people to notice. A careful study could show the real effect.
It’s possible the impact will be minimal. A report and letter from the Air Force to Baldwin suggested an increase in flights is expected while pilots are being trained on the F-35s. But after training is done, the number of flights would fall closer to what occurs now. Critics who live near the airport remain skeptical.
Baldwin helped bring the F-35s to Madison and sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Her staff last week expressed support for keeping the $50 million in the final Defense bill sent to the president. Johnson, another supporter of the jets, should get behind the $50 million, too — both for fairness to local residents most impacted by noise, and to help ensure the 115th Fighter Wing’s mission of protecting our nation proceeds smoothly.
The $50 million could help quantify how loud the jets are and serve as a safeguard for the North Side. Baldwin and Johnson need to get this done.