This is not inevitable’: Madison elected officials demand legislative leaders join their opposition of F-35 jets

The Capital Times – July 9, 2021 | By Cameron Cieszki
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A press conference Thursday organized by state Rep. Francesca Hong made clear some residents of Eken Park’s stance against the fighter jets due to arrive at nearby Truax airfield in 2023.

Elected officials, including state Sen. Kelda Roys, Supervisor Yogesh Chawla, and City Council President Syed Abbas, gathered at Washington Manor Park to demand other legislative leaders join their coalition against the placement of F-35 jets in Madison.

“This is not inevitable,” Hong said to the press, standing alongside members of the Eken Park Resistance group. “This is where people live. This is where people go to school… We can do better than this and we’re here as a community today to take that stand.”

As indicated in the Environmental Impact Statement released by the U.S. Air Force, the jets’ impact on low-income communities and minorities is substantial, potentially affecting children’s ability to learn, disturb sleep, and affect combat veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There are a number of affordable housing projects here. This F-35 project disproportionately impacts people of color, low-income seniors, kids,” Abbas said. “We need to stop this brutality forever.”

Local leaders also addressed Dane County Resolution 88, which calls for every PFAS test conducted at the airfield to be publicly disclosed and for specifying responsibilities concerning PFAS monitoring. The resolution is co-signed by Supervisors Carl Chenoweth, District 35;  Heidi Wegleitner, District 2; Richelle Andrae, District 11; Elena Haasl, District 5, and Michele Doolan, District 28.

The conference follows the Mobilize at Truax rally held about two weeks prior, where local organizers, community members and elected officials alike marched near the airfield in protest of these jets and their effect on the community.

Madison’s 115th Fighter Wing was one of two units in the country selected by the Wisconsin Air National Guard to receive F-35 jets, which will replace the aging F-16s that are currently stationed at the airfield.

“This is a dense urban environment. It is not suitable for the kind of heavy military activity that F-35s are going to bring,” said Roys, who represents District 26.

One major community concern among others is PFAS contamination, man-made chemicals commonly found in everyday products like stain repellents and cookware that have trouble breaking down over time. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl) chemicals have been found to penetrate the air and surrounding land, leading to adverse health effects like cancer as well as environmental deterioration.

In the event a jet catches fire, PFAS chemicals released from firefighting foam seeps into the land and can even contaminate wells and local waterways, as demonstrated in 2019.

“They value those fighter jets more than they value the people who live right here in these neighborhoods and we are not going to stand for it anymore,” Chawla said.