JANUARY 5, 2023 BY NATE WEGEHAUPT AND WORT NEWS DEPARTMENT
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Anti-F-35 activists have filed their final legal documents to try and keep the jets out of Dane County before they touch down at Truax airfield later this year.
The Air National Guard selected Madison as a proposed home for the F-35s years ago, along with several other cities. After releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement, and later, a final impact statement with modest changes, Madison was formally selected to receive the jets in 2020.
Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin is a non-profit coalition of activists who have been fighting the arrival of the jets in Madison for years. They maintain that Madison was always the number one pick for the jets, and that the 2019 draft impact statement was done as a formality, and was not used to help the Air Force decide where to place the jets.
Since Madison was chosen as the definitive home for the jets in 2020, Safe Skies have attempted to block their arrival using a handful of methods, including an appeal filed last year to the Environmental Protections Agency and other litigation that predates it.
In December of 2020, the anti-F-35 activists filed a lawsuit against the National Guard, claiming that they had violated federal environmental law by failing to study and disclose how the jets would affect the community. That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge last January, after the judge ruled they did not provide enough evidence that the guard failed to properly look at the environmental impacts.
In a last ditch effort, the group once again filed a federal lawsuit, this time against the Air Force, in March of 2021, again saying that the 2019 impact statement was inadequate.
That case is coming to a close, as last month, Safe Skies filed some of their final legal documents in the lawsuit. Kathleen Henry is the founder of Dairyland Public Interest Law, and is representing Safe Skies.
“This was a motion for summary judgment where we are asking the district court of the District of Columbia to find that the record shows the Air Force did not take a hard look at all the factors they were required to,” Henry says.
She says that the impact statement is inadequate for a slew of reasons.
“The most significant is that the Air Force did not take a hard look at the impacts of noise on the community,” Henry says. “I didn’t take a look at the impacts on environmental justice, and the Air Force chose the two sites, Madison and Alabama, that would have the most severe impacts on low income and minority communities.”
The Air Force’s Environmental Impact Statement says that, at 1,000 feet above ground level, the jets will have a noise level of around 119 decibels on take off, louder than a garbage disposal and a nightclub.
Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to loud noises, such as those from the F-35s, may cause developmental issues in children, including poor reading comprehension, long-term memory issues, and increased stress.
The brief filed last month recognizes that most lawsuits filed against the military end up favoring the military. But the brief points to a recent lawsuit filed by a small town in Washington state called Whidbey Island. There, the US Navy planned to station jets in the community.
In that case, a federal judge ruled against the Navy last year, saying that they had not conducted an adequate environmental study, specifically pointing to a failure by the Navy to show the noise impact the jets would have on classroom learning.
In that case, the environmental impact statement was thrown out, and Steven Klafka with Safe Skies says that he hopes to see that happen in Madison as well.
“Our biggest goal is to stop construction and stop the jets from coming here,” Klafka says, “and also if the EIS is done properly and explains the impacts they will have on residents, the Air Force may decide not to bring the jets here.”
The Air Force will have until January 16 to respond to Safe Skies’ final brief, and Safe Skies will have until mid-February to respond. The court will have all the documents needed to decide the case mid-March. The US Air Force and the Air National Guard declined to comment, as litigation is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, the jets are set to land at Truax Airfield in early May, and Kathleen Henry says that she isn’t optimistic that a decision will be made before the jets touch down.
“We had our complaints filed with (the judge) over a year ago, and we asked to supplement the record, and she took a year to rule on our motion to supplement the record.” Henry says. “I don’t think there’s any way she’ll rule before May.”
Henry says that even if the case is decided after the jets touch down, she says that the jets can still be removed if the judge rules in their favor.
Construction has already begun on the new installation, including the addition of a jet simulator facility which broke ground in August 2021, and a medical readiness building which broke ground last month.