Madison needs more transparency on F-35s, residents say
By Andrew Bahl
February 2, 2024
The Wisconsin National Guard should be more transparent about its efforts to reduce noise from the F-35 fighter jets now taking off and landing in Madison, residents said Thursday night at a military-sponsored event designed to gather feedback on the controversial planes.
The listening sessions, which are part of a federal grant-funded effort to address the jets’ noise impact, didn’t satisfy all attendees, some of whom said the only solution was to abandon the planes’ presence at Truax Field.
Local opposition to the jets has stretched back years, to when the military began considering phasing out the F-16s and replacing them with the next generation of fighter jet.
Once the F-35s arrived in April, many residents argued they were louder than the previous jets and raised concerns that the noise would disproportionately harm low-income residents and communities of color living near the airport.
Thousands more residents have an average sound level of 65 decibels over the course of a day, according to an environmental impact study conducted by the Air Force in 2020. Critics have said that even this standard is outdated and doesn’t fully account for the health effects that sustained exposure to loud noises can create.
Wisconsin is set to apply for millions in federal grant funding that can be used to buy noise mitigation materials, such as windows and drywall to dampen the sound. A total of $5 million is specifically set aside for areas that recently received new fighter jets.
But data-gathering to inform that process can’t move forward until the airport wraps up a study on its own noise effects, which is scheduled to be done soon.
Meanwhile, the National Guard inked a $47,500 contract with the consulting firm future iQ to gather community input on possible noise mitigation strategies, among other community outreach efforts.
Part of that includes the listening sessions, hosted at Madison College, abutting the airport.
“Fundamentally, at the core, it is about building a connection between the community, of course, and the fighter wing,” said David Beurle, the CEO of future iQ. “That relationship, I think, is important to both sides.”
Residents said a lack of information from the Guard has made many of them hesitant to trust the military, pointing to an inability to report noise concerns and get concrete answers from officials.
Steven Klafka, director of the advocacy group Safe Skies, Clean Water, noted that residents have been voicing their opinions on the jets since the Air Force completed its environmental impact statement in 2019.
“Nothing really became of it,” he said of past efforts. “And so here we are, again, talking about these things, a little smarter about it now. This is a little more local, because the Guard is in the room. … If they really are part of a community, maybe they could do something.”
While the endgame is to apply for the noise mitigation money, attendees pointed out that this would help only when inside a house. And only those living closest to the airport would be eligible.
“You may have noise abatement in your home, but what if you want to take your kids out for a bicycle ride or walk your pets,” said Paula Rogge, who helps run Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin.
Those in attendance pushed for schedules to be posted on when the planes will be taking off and landing, as well as better data monitoring to gauge health effects.
Anne Tigan, who lives in the Atwood neighborhood, said she would like the Guard to do a better job of integrating into the community, with pilots potentially attending events at local schools.
“If they’re going to be here, I want them to truly engage with the community,” Tigan said. “If they’re going to be bedded down at Truax, they need to be as bedded down as possible. … They should go in and help fix the problem they created, right?”
Others said there were virtually no changes that could be made that would make the jets bearable. Klafka wasn’t quite that blunt but said he was pessimistic about the ultimate outcome of the effort.
“We’ve been through this so many times,” he said. “It’s unlikely, if you’re a betting person, that any improvements will occur.”
Residents can attend one of the two remaining sessions, which are both being held at 1701 Wright St. on the Madison College Truax Campus. One session was set from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. today, while the other will be from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Saturday.