Wisconsin State Journal | 2 April 2020 | Chris Hubbuch
“Attorneys for a group opposed to basing F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field say the Air Force’s review of environmental impacts is deficient and are calling for additional study before a final basing decision is announced.
In a March 27 letter, attorneys hired by the Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin coalition say the environmental impact statement (EIS) published Feb. 28 has “numerous flaws” and does not meet requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Among other concerns, the group said the Air Force failed to address concerns about groundwater pollution that could result from the project and didn’t do enough to engage the low-income and minority populations who would be most affected.
For example, the EIS acknowledges soil and groundwater contamination at Truax resulting from the use of firefighting foam containing hazardous PFAS compounds that could be spread by up to $120 million in construction to ready the base for the new planes. But, the group contends, it doesn’t sufficiently analyze the potential results of the construction or outline prevention measures.
“At most, the final EIS broadly describes future processes that may be utilized to identify and address contamination, but it does not state whether they would be effective,” the letter states.
The letter accuses the Air National Guard of ignoring its own commitments and legal obligations to begin cleanup.
On March 13 — nearly two years after first notifying the Air National Guard that it was responsible for the release of hazardous substances at Truax — the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sent a letter saying the Guard has failed to comply with state law.
The DNR noted that National Guard leaders agreed in a Nov. 18 meeting to retain a consultant within 60 days to prepare a work plan for soil, surface and groundwater investigations and to address PFAS-contaminated groundwater that continues to seep from the site. But 116 days later, the Guard had not followed through, according to the DNR, which has extended the deadline until May 4.
The DNR letter gives the guard until Nov. 30 to take action to stop PFAS-contaminated groundwater and stormwater from leaving the site.
That letter was issued one day after Gov. Tony Evers declared a statewide health emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not clear how a series of subsequent orders limiting nonessential services might affect enforcement.
Leaders of the Safe Skies Clean Water coalition sent a letter to Evers Wednesday requesting a meeting and asking if he would use his authority to enforce the new DNR deadlines.
Safe Skies also says the EIS understates the disproportionate impacts the project would have on minority and low-income communities and failed to comply with federal requirements to ensure those groups had an opportunity to participate in the process.
The group said Truax should not be selected until the Air Force prepares a supplemental EIS. The final EIS was published Feb. 28, meaning Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett could announce a decision any day.
In a statement, the Air Force said it had received letter, which it will “consider as a public comment” and be added to the administrative record.
An Air Force spokeswoman previously said the pandemic response may delay some administrative actions such as the final basing decision.
“It is currently under review and a final basing decision will be made at the appropriate time,” said Laura McAndrews.
Safe Skies Clean Waters representative Steven Klafka said the group is reviewing options for legal action and said he hopes Barrett will heed a Madison City Council resolution approved early Wednesday calling on Barrett to send the planes elsewhere.”