State Rep. Chris Taylor and Badger Air CC Executive Director Chris Arenz debate F-35s

Go to September 27, scroll to 11 minutes in for this topic. https://wpt4.org/wpt-video/here-and-now/

Transcript:

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

In tonight’s closer look, the U.S. Air Force is deciding whether to choose Madison’s Truax Field as a location for its F-35 fighter jets. Truax is home to the Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing and its current complement of F-16 aircraft. Four other locations across the country are in the running for 18 F-35 fighters, which fly both federal and state missions. But the Air Force is running into controversy in Madison because of its own environmental impact statement that found the change in the noise environment associated with the F-35s would be considered “significant in the area surrounding the air field and there would be significant disproportionate impacts to low income and minority populations as well as children.” But supporters of locating the F-35s in Dane County say the economic impact of having them here would be significant too. And the base could close when its aging fleet of F-16s retire. This week the Air Force announced it would extend public comment for 30 more days. We hear now from both sides of this debate. Chris Arenz works in favor of the F-35s at Truax. He’s the executive director of the Badger Air Community Council. Truax Field falls into State Representative Chris Taylor’s district. She’s opposed to the effort. Thanks to both of you for being here.

CHRIS ARENZ, CHRIS TAYLOR:

Thank you.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

As we start out, right out of the gates, just a big picture and first to you, Chris Arenz, why would locating the F-35s here be beneficial in your mind?

CHRIS ARENZ:

Well, as you said in your opening, the economic impact here in the area is $100 million annually, supports 1200 jobs and the F-35 would secure that mission for the next 30 to 40 years. Absent this mission, I can tell you first hand having thrown the current F-16s, their shelf life is coming to an end. So if we don’t get a new mission such as the F-35, that puts the base at jeopardy for closure.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

And Representative Taylor, why do you think this would be so detrimental?

CHRIS TAYLOR:

Well look, I’m relying on the environmental impact statement that the Air Force put out. And it shows about 2200 individuals and about 1000 residences are going to be impacted. These are very loud jets. This is — they are significantly louder and that’s what the Air Force has said. They’re going to be running approximately 2300 additional operations. And we know, the Air Force is also telling us this has a disparate impact on communities of color, kids, low-income individuals. We already struggle with inequities in our community. We have some of the most significant racial inequities. We already know schools are right around this zone of noise. We know the Air Force is telling us kids are impacted by this type of noise. Nowhere in the environmental statement does the Air Force say Truax will close if the F-35s don’t come here. In fact, their own analysis say operations will continue. They point to a negligible economic impact. We will get about 64 jobs.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

Let’s let Chris Arenz weigh in on this. What about that? What about this whole concern and the environmental impact statement that did say that the noise would cause significant issues?

CHRIS ARENZ:

We believe that the environmental impact statement is overstating the number of operations that are going to occur. It even says directly in there this is the maximum potential impact. Worse case scenario. As an operator, I can break down all of those numbers, the 6222 operations. Part of that assumption is all flights will fly out of Madison. Which just isn’t true. In fact right now, our F-16s are deployed to Afghanistan. So those deployments will continue and that operations will reduce it 20% right off the bat. So we’ve asked, in fact our input to the commentary for the National Guard bureau, to give us a most likely scenario. I think with overstating the number of operations in there, I agree, it does worry, I think unduly, the neighborhood. We need a better vision of what those noise contours look like.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

What about this whole issue of afterburners? I read a lot about that. When they take-off, it’s this super powered burner and that’s even louder. Is that accurate?

CHRIS ARENZ:

That is. Current operations with the F-16 use it approximately 60% of the time. That increases their speed for take-off. That’s really due to weather conditions. Essentially the hotter it is, the more they have to use it. With the F-35s, it has a more powerful engine which requires only 5% or less afterburner for take-off.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

When Chris Arenz says these planes won’t be operating at those kinds of levels because they’ll be elsewhere or they’ll be deployed, what about that? Does that soften the blow for you?

CHRIS TAYLOR:

No, because the Air Force was just asked this question by Congressman Mark Pocan. He asked them explicitly, is this going to be the number of operations? What about simulators? They came back to say this is the number of operations. They determine the number of operations. They have reaffirmed the number of operations predicted are as what they believe it to be.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

Now in terms of the noise levels in that neighborhood or neighborhoods, aren’t they already affected by Truax and the F-16s and otherwise the Dane County Regional Airport in terms of noise?

CHRIS TAYLOR:

Yes, absolutely but these jets are not just a little bit noisier. They are significantly noisier on every measure that was set forth in the environmental impact statement. For instance, it’s estimated when they are coming down and arriving in our city, it’s a 10 decibel increase. To the human ear, that’s twice as loud. We don’t have anything flying in our skies that are this loud.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

How loud is it? You know, I tried to read those decibel levels. What’s an example? You’re suggesting that children in schools, people in their homes, what are they going to hear?

CHRIS TAYLOR:

Sure, well in an area of my district called Carpenter Ridge Way, it’s estimated that basically a peak decibel to 114 decibels. That is a rock concert. In close proximity to that neighborhood is Hawthorne School. Hawthorne School has 68% of those kids are low income. 74% are kids are color. They already do hear noise. I’ve heard that from the teachers. But this type of jet is going to fly over their school. They don’t have air conditioning. You can’t mitigate a playground and the Air Force’s own study says children can be very much adversely impacted by airport noise. It decreases their reading. It has other horrible impacts on children.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

How much does that resonate with supporters of bringing in the F-35s in here?

CHRIS ARENZ:

Absolutely and what I want to return to is we’re not disputing the number of operations that are listed in the EIS. We’re saying those operations won’t occur here in Madison. So because of that, that impact that is shown in the noise contours, which is a direct relation to how many, is inaccurate and is much smaller. So what we say is, we do not think it will have the impact that the environmental impact statement says.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

Just very briefly on this too, Representative Taylor says that — she doesn’t believe it’s accurate that if the F-35s don’t come here, that that air field would close.

CHRIS ARENZ (We let WPT know they mistakenly attributed this quote to Chris Taylor):

Yeah, that is absolutely the conclusion that will happen. In fact, it’s been stated by former secretary of the Air Force, Wilson in regard to Burlington, Vermont if that mission of the F-35 didn’t come there, that after the F-16s aged out, they would lose their flying mission.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

We’ll continue to watch this. Again, the public comment is open for another 30 days. Chris Arenz, thanks very much. Representative Taylor, thank you.

CHRIS TAYLOR, CHRIS ARENZ:

Thank you.