Fighter jets, environmental education, and social justice do not mix

By Maria C. Powell, PhD MAY 12, 2021

Midwest Environment Justice Organization

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On May 10, F-16s from Madison’s Air National Guard Truax Field took off while MEJO’s Touyeng Xiong was teaching kids from the East Madison Community Center about birds, trees, and other wildlife just west of the center, a couple thousand feet from the base. Touyeng and his family, and some of these kids, live in the Truax apartments that are visible in the video.

What happened when the jets took off? The kids got squirrelier. Teaching stopped. Everybody just waited for the horrific noise to end. Here’s what it sounded like…

The F-35s coming to the base soon are reportedly up to four times louder than the F-16s you hear roaring in this video.

How can anyone deem it acceptable for these horrifically loud, dangerous war machines to be located next to these kids’ and their families’ homes, backyards, and play areas?

The area where the kids were learning about nature is leased from Dane County by MATC. It was deemed within the 65 decibel area in the bogus, highly inadequate Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) approved in spring 2020. As far as we understand, only housing within the 65 decibel area will potentially qualify for sound mitigation funds (for walls, windows, etc) through the FAA. The EIS noise modeling deemed the Truax apartments (subsidized public housing just to the east of the area in the video) outside of the 65 decibel area. What separates the apartments from the 65 decibel area? The 40-50 foot wide Wright Street.

No noise modeling expertise is needed to see how absurd this is. You also don’t have to be an engineer to understand that sound mitigation in housing won’t prevent outdoor noise exposures anyway.

The F-16 fighter jets take off and land in groups of two or four at a time (sometimes more) many times a day, nearly every day–and sometimes at night. At the Truax apartments, it’s not just roaring noise–the ground and buildings shake. Your whole body shakes. Imagine what this feels like for a very small child? It must be terrifying.

At the anti F-35 rally on September 12, 2019, Touyeng described what it is like living in the Truax neighborhood with these ongoing jet noise disruptions:

“I have lived in the Truax neighborhood for over 20 years, and in that time span, I have experienced on multiple occasions, the deafening noise created by F-16 fighter jets flying by- to and from the Dane County airport. I was brought to believe that fighter jets bring freedom and peace, but what I learned was that what they bring and leave behind is anguish. There are times when the sounds produced by them have been so loud it was unbearable, times when I’ve completely stopped what I was doing and had to cover my ears and wait for the jets to pass, only to repeat my aforementioned actions as I am greeted with the roars of another as it trails the one ahead. I see no benefit to the F-35 fighter jets being based in Madison, but what I see is in the long run– physical and mental suffering.

I’m here to advocate not only for myself, but for my four month old brother, my 3 year old sister, the rest of my family, my neighbors, my community, those who don’t even know this is going on, and the future of our livelihoods.

I have learned to live with the deafening sounds of F16s as they race across the sky, and I believe my longtime neighbors and family would agree. Sadly, this is our way of life. To introduce F35s to the mix, which are stated to be three-four times louder than the current F16s, along with an additional increase in flight missions both day and night, would mean the ruination of our livelihoods. A large proportion of people who will be affected by the bed down are vulnerable people such as children, senior citizens AND low income families. I grew up in the Truax neighborhood living with the deafening sounds of fighter jets flying by because my family could not afford to live elsewhere. The bed-down of F35s essentially means hundreds, if not thousands of Madisonians will have to relocate, but with the cost of living in Madison rising, where would we go? Will there be help to completely relocate?

Aside from that, PFAS compounds and other toxic chemicals—for decades have oozed into our ground waters, the Starkweather Creek and the fish that people in this community eat. Near the base, low-income families, including children and infants are exposed to toxic chemicals released from the base through the air and drinking water. It is highly likely that the source of PFAS contamination in our ground water, specifically the water that comes from well 15— originates from the base and burn pits in the adjacent properties surrounding it. These are significant environmental injustice issues, which are NOT addressed at all in the Draft EIS. We currently do not know the extent of this contamination and should be directing resources to identify point sources and cleaning the pollution.

Touyeng Xiong, Madison native, born and raised on the east side. I come from a family of 16, all of whom were raised in the Truax neighborhood. I recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a genetics degree and currently work as a molecular technologist. Still, I live in the Truax neighborhood.”