Dane County supervisors bring back resolution opposing F-35 jets

The U.S. Air Force has selected Madison to host a squadron of F-35 fighter jets, which are expected to bring jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.

After about a year stuck in committee, a resolution opposing the placement of F-35 jets at Truax Field in Madison is back up for consideration by Dane County, but even if the proposal passes, it’s unlikely to stop or stall the jets’ arrival.

Last April, the U.S. Air Force selected Madison to host the squadron of F-35 fighter jets, which are expected to bring jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution. The $90 million jets will begin arriving in 2023 and replace the current fleet of 1980s-model F-16s at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing.

Dane County’s Environment, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Thursday recommended a resolution that would officially oppose the project, delay construction agreements, and direct the county’s legal department to explore strategies for blocking the Air Force’s plans and mitigating the impact.

The Madison City Council adopted a similar proposal standing against the jets in April, but the city has no power to prevent the planes from coming.

Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, the lead sponsor of the county resolution, said she wants to find out whether the county can stop the project, delay it, or at least mitigate the harm from the planes. She said since the county is the landowner, it may have more power than the city.

“That’s what this resolution is about is trying to see what we can do,” Wegleitner said.

Asked why the resolution was being revived now after Madison has already been selected for the jets, Wegleitner said “this project is still a bad idea.”

The county’s environment committee had already approved the resolution in March, but brought it up for a vote again with the hope of helping the proposal gain some traction after it stalled last year when the COVID-19 pandemic put many county meetings on hold. The County Board never took it up for a vote.

The resolution has the same language as last time, except for a few minor changes and a new amendment from Sup. Yogesh Chawla, 6th District, that would put any construction agreements between the National Guard and the county on hold until environmental studies are complete, a plan is developed to fix the PFAS contamination at the site, and that plan has been both funded and started.

Sup. Jeremy Levin, 10th District, the only member of the committee to vote against the proposal, said it was “bizarre” to vote on the resolution a second time. He said other county committees could have taken it up for a vote, but for almost a year, they haven’t.

“I think it tells you where else this is going, and it’s nowhere,” Levin said.

But Chawla said even if committees refuse to consider the resolution, he or another supervisor could pull it out of committee for a full vote by the County Board.

The 37-member board was split on the issue last year. Fourteen board members are sponsors of the resolution.

The measure next heads to the Public Protection & Judiciary Committee, the Airport Commission, Public Works & Transportation Committee and the Executive Committee.