Abigail Becker | The Capital Times Mar 5, 2020
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Several Dane County Board supervisors representing the north and east sides of Madison will introduce a resolution Thursday opposing basing a squadron of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field.
Supervisors Heidi Wegleitner, District 2; Michele Ritt, District 18; Paul Rusk, District 12; Yogesh Chawla, District 6 and Richard Kilmer, District 4, are sponsoring the resolution and say their districts would suffer the most severe consequences of siting the fighter jets in Madison.
The resolution comes after the United States Air Force released a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Feb. 19 — the last step before the Air Force issues a final decision on the siting of the jets. The EIS confirmed Madison as a preferred site for the jets and that the jets would disproportionately affect children and people of color.
“It confirmed our most serious concerns with this proposal, including the environmental racism that is being proposed,” Wegleitner told the Cap Times Thursday. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that we would stand by while the Air Force proposes to harm low income communities, disproportionately people of color and children in this way.”
The supervisors will introduce the resolution and circulate it for co-sponsors at their meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
The jets would replace the Air National Guard 115 Fighter Wing’s aging fleet of F-16s. If Madison is chosen, a fleet of 18 F-35s would arrive at Truax in 2023.
The Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that the jets will be louder than the F-16s based there now, and the number of flight missions will increase by 47%. It also notes that the impact falls mostly on neighborhoods near the airfield, where many residents are minority and low income. The report estimates that 1,318 households and 2,766 people would be exposed to noise levels of at least 65 decibels, rendering about 199 acres of land “potentially incompatible” with residential use.
But in a Feb. 21 letter to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Wisconsin National Guard interim leader Gen. Joane Mathews said the EIS represents the “maximum potential impact.” Mathews estimates that the number of operations of F-35s at Truax will be similar to the number of F-16 operations.
In the resolution, supervisors raise concerns about residents who would be affected by the increased noise levels but unable to afford the cost of moving.
The Air Force cannot fund noise mitigation to assist nearby property owners, the resolution states. Dane County could pursue a voluntary program through the Federal Aviation Administration, but the process takes years to complete and no funding is guaranteed.
“We have a huge affordable housing gap in this county,” Wegleitner said in a statement. “Residents can’t just pick up and move to a new affordable housing unit on the other side of the county. Waitlists are years-long or closed.”
Supervisors also highlighted environmental concerns, including construction that would disturb soil laden with contaminants known as PFAS. Truax is a known source of several toxic chemicals that have spilled into Starkweather Creek, which empties into Lake Monona.
“One of our top priorities in county government is to ensure that our neighbors have clean drinking water and to ensure that we are not supporting projects that could have potentially life threatening health consequences to the most vulnerable people in our community,” Chawla said in the statement.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources previously told the Air Force that all planned construction projects will require a complete site investigation to determine whether PFAS contamination is present prior to construction.
The resolution calls on lawyers for Dane County to look at legal strategies that the county could take to prevent the jets from being located in Madison. Additionally, the resolution asks for county attorneys to look at ways to mitigate the effects of the jets if they are located at Truax Field.
“I do want to get the legal advice, so we can do whatever we can to protect our county residents,” Wegleitner said.
A decision from the Air Force is expected later this month. Wegleitner said she wants the resolution to inform supervisors about the potential harm to Dane County.
“This exposes us to a lot of risk: risk to our health, our water, our budget,” Wegleitner said.