On August 4th, the Madison Common Council voted to stop development of the Raemisch Farm Property on Madison’s north site adjacent to the Dane County Airport. We applaud the Council for protecting another generation of city residents from the ugly and unhealthy noise created by air traffic, especially that from the current and future training of fighter jet pilots of the Air National Guard at Truax Field. We think this should be a wake-up call to stop further residential development near the airport until we either:
1) find a new mission for the Air National Guard, or
2) relocate our 80-year-old county airport out of Madison.
Safe Skies represents many residents who are currently forced to live on the flight path of the airport. We know firsthand the distress and violence of noise from commercial airliners, fighter jets and military helicopters. We continue to see and hear the long-term failure of the airport and Air National Guard’s noise abatement efforts, and the disregard they show for Madison residents.
A New Mission for the Air National Guard
Madison is no longer a suitable place for training fighter jet pilots at Truax Field. Like other Air National Guard units throughout the U.S., a new mission should be found for the 115th Fighter Wing that is compatible with our growing urban area. The current F-16 fighter jets expose residents to ear shattering and violent noise levels greater than 100 dBA, far above Madison’s noise ordinance limit of 65 dBA. The Air Force ignored thousands of public comments on their Environmental Impact Statement and showed no concern for the welfare of Madison residents when it approved the deployment of a squadron of new F-35 fighter to Truax Field in 2023. By selecting Truax Field, the Air Force showed reckless and irresponsible judgement. In response to the Air Force decision, the Madison Common Council adopted a resolution which firmly opposed these new fighter jets and asked the secretary of the Air Force to station them elsewhere.
According to those living in Burlington, Vermont, where the F-35 jets have already been deployed, these jets will be four times louder than the F-16s, and send low frequency vibrations through buildings and people. As recently reported in the Vermont media story, Sound Effects: In the F-35’s Flight Path, Vermonters’ Lives Have Changed, residents describe the horrendous impact of F-35 fighter jet noise on their lives and refer to the jets as “barbaric”.
The Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field made it clear that the county airport and Air National Guard are inflicting environmental injustice and racism on the low-income and families of color who have been forced to live near the airport. We should also not promote further injustice and racism by building more housing near the airport. It doesn’t need to be this way. There are 42 missions currently offered by the Air Force to the Air National Guard. We need a mission that doesn’t treat us as collateral damage of the Defense Department. As a designated nuclear free zone, Madison doesn’t need a mission that bring us closer to nuclear war with the small war-heads carried by the F-35 jet. We need a mission we can all be proud of. Just south of us, in Iowa, the Air National Guard stopped training fighter jet pilots as its mission in 2013 to begin training drone pilots. In addition, there are scientific and medical missions, which would be far more compatible with UW – Madison and area medical businesses.
Governor Tony Evers is the Wisconsin leader of the National Guard, including the 115th Fighter Wing. The Madison Common Council and the Dane County Board of Supervisors should ask the governor to find a new Air National Guard mission that is compatible with our city. Until he does so, there should be a moratorium on future residential development near the county airport and Truax Field.
Time to Move the County Airport
The county airport has existed for 80 years and expanded in its current location. Meanwhile, Madison and Dane County have also grown. In fact, the recent census results show the Madison area is the fastest growing in Wisconsin. People come to Madison for the quality of life and employment, not to be exposed to the unhealthy noise of aircraft. When considering the ill effects of the airport on city residents, it doesn’t take long to realize it should be moved.
The county airport has done a terrible job protecting Madison residents from the ill effects of airplane noise. While other airports have relocated residents from locations with the worse noise levels, or added noise insulation on existing homes, our county airport has relied on avigation easements, providing a single payment so the homeowner cannot sue the airport for damages. In 2013, the SASY Neighborhood Association met with County Exec Joe Parisi and airport staff to discuss the continued airport noise problem and recommendations for improvements, such as appointing commissioners more reflective of those impacted by airport operations. These recommendations were ignored and the airport continues to show no interest in the best practice noise abatement procedures of other airports. More recently, at the April 14th meeting of the Dane County Airport Commission, Commissioner Perry Armstrong responded to public concerns about the noise impacts of the proposed F-35 fighter jets and told people if they don’t like the noise they should move.
Unlike other airports, ours does not objectively measure noise levels and exposure. Instead, residents have needed to create their own noise monitoring stations. Recently, an incoming F-16 fighter jet reached a record 110 decibels over Atwood Avenue, 2 miles from the runway. Don’t believe any assurances from the Air National Guard or county airport staff they can protect residents from the even louder F-35 jets to be deployed to Madison in 2023.
The noise standard used by the county airport is over 50 years old. Only now has the Federal Aviation Administration begun to review this standard. It received over 4,000 public comments. Initial findings show the standard should be much lower. When the FAA standard changes the area designated by the FAA as “incompatible for residential housing” would probably include the Raemisch Farm property and additional areas of Madison surrounding the county airport and Truax Field.
The latest IPCC report warns us that climate change is getting worse and needs our urgent attention. The county airport is a poster child for unsustainable living. Air travel is least efficient form of transportation with the greatest source of green house gas emissions. In addition, aircraft emissions have three times the impact on global warming as other forms of transit. The county airport is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Madison.
The county airport is an unprogressive, undemocratic public entity. Airport passenger fees paid by wealthy flyers can only be spent on airport improvements with nothing for adjacent low-income neighborhoods. Local residents have no vote or control over airport management by the independent airport commission, which is staffed by pro-airport business representatives. This organization does not represent the progressive and democratic ideals of Madison residents.
The airport has contaminated our groundwater, Starkweather Creek, and Yahara chain of lakes with PFAS from fire-fighting foam. Compared to other PFAS contamination sites in the state, it has used a secretive and slow process to investigate and remediate the contamination. In Peshtigo, there have been 15 public meetings to discuss the investigation and cleanup of their PFAS contamination. Only recently has the county airport hosted a public meeting.
Madison residents take pride in and enjoy our culture, music scene and festivals. It is ironic that we allow 60,000 people living on the east and north sides of Madison within three miles of the county airport to be exposed every day to the ugly noise of aircraft.
We should look to Austin, Texas for inspiration. Like Madison, Austin is a state capitol and home of the state university. It shows us the benefits of moving a city bound airport. In 1994, Austin relocated their 64-year-old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. It was replaced with the Mueller Community, a planned community located 3 miles from the downtown reusing many of the former airport buildings. It is estimated that this new community will be worth $1.3 billion, including 4.2 million square feet of non-residential development, 650,000 square feet of retail space, 4,600 homes and 140 acres of open space. An estimated 10,000 permanent jobs within the development will have been created by the time it is complete. That’s a lot of vitality, new residents, employment, property tax revenue and quality of life. By relocating the county airport, Madison could have a sustainable showcase, rather than keeping a poster child for pollution and global warming.
The Madison Common Council and the Dane County Board of Supervisors should begin planning for relocation of the county airport and development of its former site as a sustainable, planned community, only 3 miles from downtown Madison. Until the county airport ceases operations at its current location, there should be a moratorium on future residential development near the county airport and Truax Field.
In closing, we are asking city and county leaders to provide a healthy and sustainable future for Madison and Dane County residents. Please stop further residential development near the county airport until we either: 1) find a new mission for the Air National Guard, or 2) relocate our 80- year-old county airport out of Madison.
Thank you for considering our comments and serving us.
On behalf of Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin