Tom Boswell: County Resolution on F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jets

I’m aware that the Badger Air Community Council has been flooding your [County Supervisors] email box with letters in support of the Joint Strike Fighter Force F-35s at Truax Field. In concert with the Chamber of Commerce and editors of the Wisconsin State Journal, they are accusing the opponents of this project of spreading misinformation.

I won’t bother to refute all their charges but would like to share some of what I know, and leave it to you to make up your own mind. I want to focus on a couple of what I consider the most important issues: the nuclear capability of the jets, safety issues, economic impacts, PFAS contamination and the County’s liability.

Nuclear Capability

On May 13 of last year, two months short of a year, I sent a note to the editorial page editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, along with a letter I was hoping the paper would publish. It concerned a similar letter that retired Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco had published a few weeks earlier in Vermont, claiming that the F-35s will carry what has been called “the most dangerous nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal.”

The weapon she was referring to was the B61-12 guided nuclear bomb, which can be “dialed down” to “only” a third of a kiloton, making it a “usable” nuclear weapon in the minds of some war planners.

Greco went on to explain that the F-35 is a single-seat fighter, making the plane and bomb even more frightening. “The F-35 has only one human being in control. One human being, with one push of the button, could imperil the planet,” she wrote.

You would think that someone with Greco’s background–30 years of Air Force active duty and a delegate at four international nuclear arms control negotiations–might have a little “cred” with Madison’s liberal establishment, but not so. The Journal editor responded the same day that they would need to confirm through their “own independent reporting, the accuracy of the claim that the jets will carry nuclear weapons.” They forwarded my query to the news desk and I never heard back.

Safe Skies Clean Water brought Colonel Greco to Madison in September. Much of the local media did turn out to hear what she had to say but some progressive public officials, like Congressman Mark Pocan, dismissed what she had to say without bothering to meet her.

Pierre Sprey Testimony in Burlington on F-35 5-7-2019 link to document

This January, Safe Skies Clean Water brought Pierre Sprey to town, an engineer and defense analyst who helped design the F-16 and A-10 fighter jets. Sprey is a prominent critic of the F-35 but no local print media other than The Progressive magazine bothered to interview him or attend any events held during his visit.

Yet, a couple weeks ago, after the final Environmental Impact Statement on the F-35 project was released, and after apparently getting all the “facts” they needed from local F-35 boosters, the State Journal editors decided they were prepared to speak out in favor of “the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world.”

“The new report dispels one of the most provocative fears raised by citizens in Madison: that the military jets could carry nuclear weapons. The report makes clear the F-35 will not have that capability,” the newspaper opined.

Both the Journal and Badger Air Community Council quoted from the revised EIS that “the F-35A Block 3F aircraft is not “nuclear-capable” … There are no plans to add the hardware necessary for a nuclear mission.”

But here is Pierre Sprey speaking to the Vermont State Legislature last May: “The F-35s you’re getting now, of course, are not nuclear wired. Left to its own devices, inevitably the Air Force will nuclear wire them. No present F-35 has nuclear wiring because the F-35 hadn’t even been fully designed yet. We’re producing it like crazy and it’s like a do-it-yourself kit. We’re still building it, we’re still designing it, we’re sending parts to redo it as we go down the production line. And a very clear part of that is the new modernization program, it used to be called Lock-4, now called C2D2 … That is an upgrade program that has about fifty different upgrade items, central among which is nuclear capability, and that will be applied to every one of the current production F-35s that are like the ones you are getting and it will be applied to future new production.”

Sprey reiterated this when he spoke in Madison: No F-35 is presently equipped for nuclear weapons but every one would be in the future.

Starting with Barack Obama and continuing with Donald Trump, the horrendous concept of a “winnable” nuclear war has been revived as official policy, and the F-35 is at the center of this nightmare notion. In 2018, Trump and his Secretary of Defense issued a new Nuclear Posture Review which makes a small nuclear war an integral part of the strategic defense of the U.S.

“It says in essence that there’s a seamless ladder of nuclear weapons options, from tiny warheads in small, regional nuclear wars all the way up to the all-out Holocaust,” said Sprey in his testimony to the Vermont Legislature. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review was the first time ever that a specific fighter jet was mentioned by name, he noted. In fact, it was mentioned eight times. “There’s a reason why,” he explained. “One, of course, is they’re trying to justify the unprecedented budget of the F-35 … the most expensive weapons program in the history of the world, much more so than, say, the atom bomb as an example. It also puts the F-35 front and center because it will be the first weapons system deployed with this whole new emphasis placed on small nuclear weapons.”

“The F-35 is the opening wedge for the small nuclear warhead and the supposed ability to fight a small nuclear war, and that will be coming here,” Sprey said. The people in Vermont were also assured that their airbase would have no nuclear mission. Sprey called it “an empty statement,” tracing back the history in Vermont to the 1960’s and six different mission changes. “In none of those were the citizens of Vermont or the legislature consulted, it just happened,” he said.

[I will attach his entire five-page testimony in case you want to read more. I hope you do. You can also visit the Safe Skies Clean Water website to view Pierre Sprey’s presentation in Madison.  Who knows, maybe the State Journal will even be motivated to begin their long overdue fact checking.]

Sprey said that nuclear weapons would probably not be stored in Madison. Instead, the jets would go elsewhere to pick up the bombs and then proceed to whatever lucky country was designated to receive this ultimate gift from U.S. taxpayers. But make no mistake, the delivery vehicles would be stationed here, so Madison would be a target.

When representatives of Safe Skies Clean Water met with Congressman Pocan, he assured us that nuclear weapons would never be stored in Madison, but this is “an empty statement” too.

Maria Powell of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization posted an article [ F-35 Fighter Jets in Madison: What Would Martin Luther King, Jr. say? ] on the MEJO blog about nuclear weapons and radioactive materials being stored at Truax in past years. To summarize some of the highlights:

  • In early 1975, the fire department reported to city officials that it was being instructed on “special precautions” in case Chinook (CH-47) helicopters flying in and out of Truax were to go down because they were carrying “radioactive materials.” The Army wouldn’t confirm or deny this.
  • The same day the Capital Times reported that the Army confirmed the helicopters were transporting missile components for an anti-ballistic missile defense site based in North Dakota.
  • The next day, Airport Superintendent Robert Skuldt told the Capital Times  that “nuclear explosives are nothing new here. Nuclear weapons were stored at Truax Field during the early 1960s and their presence was common knowledge among city, county and state government officials.” He reported that nuclear weapons were carried by F-89 fighters stationed at Truax and flying air defense missions ranging up into Canada. Skuldt said he had attended “countless” briefings for local and state officials focused on the nuclear weapons at Truax.
  • In a March 6, 1975 article, the Wisconsin State Journal quoted an Army spokesman as admitting that certain components carried on the helicopter flights were “of an explosive nature.” He added that “it is national policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence, at any location, of nuclear weapons. This would also include the movement of nuclear weapons.”
  • Mayor Soglin was outraged and said “These flights should not be made into Truax because of the hazards posed to persons living in the flight paths and in close proximity to the airport.”
  • On March 7, U.S. Representative Les Aspin (D-Racine), hardly a peace activist, called the nation’s anti-ballistic missile system “a wasteful and frankly most useless project” and said the use of Truax as a transfer point for shipments to anti-ballistic missile sites creates “a potentially serious safety hazard for the Madison community.”
  • A few days later, the mayor’s office announced a plan to start a class action suit to halt the helicopter flights based on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Environmental Decade did so too. In May, the Army said they would end the helicopter flights and the lawsuits were dropped.
  • Truax jet crashes, which had occurred regularly since the 1950s, continued. In 1995, the Wisconsin State Journal wrote, after yet another crash, “The F-16C’s safety record has been criticized by Mayor Paul Soglin, who argues that flights represent an unacceptable risk to neighborhoods and businesses near the base. The F-16s belong in a “combat zone, but not here in the city,” Soglin said.”
  • In late 2017, former peace activist Paul Soglin said the F-35s are “wonderful news, a holiday gift for families.”

Safety Issues

It’s peculiar that the final EIS released by the Air Force in late February contained even less  information concerning the safety of the jets than did the draft version. The Draft EIS included a paragraph, omitted from the final document, describing some of the toxic chemicals likely to be released if an F-35 crashes and burns. The expurgated paragraph noted that the F-35A consists of 42 percent composite material by weight, (compared to 13 percent for the F-16). These composite materials (fibers, carbon fibers and advanced forms of epoxy) can result in “production of toxic fumes and airborne respirable fibers” in the event of what the Air Force calls a “mishap.”

A January, 2015 Air Force study, Composite Material Hazard Assessment at Crash Sites,  described the inherent danger if a plane composed of composite material were to crash and burn in a populated area. The study included a 15-step flow chart and five-page checklist on how to respond to a fire involving an aircraft with composite materials requiring high-tech protective gear and specialized training and equipment not found outside of military installations.

Pierre Sprey, the defense analyst and former fighter jet designer, was more explicit about the dangers of an F-35 crash when he spoke in Madison.

“When an F-35 crashes,” he said, “the plane structure burns in addition to the fuel, and when that plastic burns, it’s incredibly toxic, it’s corrosive to lungs.” Since the F-35 is also a stealth aircraft, with coatings of classified substances to absorb radar, “the order of magnitude is worse,” Sprey said.

“The crash of an F-35 in a densely populated urban area like Madison would be a disaster way beyond a terrorist chemical attack,” he said. “Thousands of people can be exposed to very, very damaging, lung-corroding, heavily carcinogenic fumes.”

“People don’t even know how to put out the fire,” Sprey added. “If such a disaster happened, your local fire departments would have no idea what to do. First of all, they don’t even know what’s necessary to put out an ordinary plastic airplane fire, much less a stealth fire. Much less, how to deal with the victims. This would be a real, real catastrophe.”

Two-thirds of all airplane crashes occur within five miles of the runway, according to Sprey. That’s because the takeoff and landing are the most dangerous part of the flight.

The Badger Air Community Council states that the F-35 “has absolutely nothing to do with PFAS.” I wish that were true. Pierre Sprey told us it would require ten times as much of the fire-fighting foam containing PFAS to extinguish a fire from an F-35 crash as it would for an F-16.

Economic Issues

I can’t think of a more patently ridiculous argument in favor of the F-35s than the economic one. Residents of Madison and Dane County are asked to risk more water, air and noise pollution, as well as the loss of affordable housing and property value, in exchange for “up to” 64 new jobs. Page W-8 in the Final Environmental Impact Statement provides the details on these jobs. It states: It is expected that the overall number of Air National Guard (ANG) personnel at the 115 FW installation would remain effectively static following conversion to the F-35A. There may be some retraining that occurs, but overall, the number of ANG personnel is expected to remain approximately the same.

The new jobs would consist of additions to a U.S. Air Force Active Duty Associate Unit: “up to” one pilot, 23 maintenance staff (probably Lockheed Martin employees), and five other support staff.  In addition, there would be “up to” 35 new personnel to provide security and contract oversight for the Full Mission Simulator and Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), for a grant total of “up to” 64 new positions at the base.

The Chamber of Commerce, Badger Air Community Council and the local press continue to tout the economic impact study done by the UW-Extension in 2015 [The Economic Impact of Wisconsin Military Installations]. There is one page in this study devoted to the economic impact of the 115th Fighter Wing, which arrives at the conclusion that the airbase generates a little shy of $100 million annually in total economic activity.


There are a few problems with this. First, the argument of the F-35 boosters is predicated on the assumption that this $100 million of income will cease to exist if the new planes fail to arrive. But the Air Force has stated time and time again that the base will remain even if the new mission does not materialize.

Second, the $100 million in economic activity is pretty precisely the cost of one F-35A jet. Guess who pays for these 18 jets (plus two spares) at $100 million each?  

Some have claimed that the price per plane is coming down but the Center for Defense Information at the Program on Government Oversight (POGO) calculates that the true cost, including procurement funds for spare parts, flight training simulator, the ALIS support system and more is $101 million. (The Navy’s version costs over $123 million each and the Marine’s in excess of $166 million.) Then there are those civilian contractors needed to keep the planes flying, of which Truax will have 40. Lockheed Martin currently gets $2 billion a year (from us), so the annual operating cost of each F-35 is $5 million.  Then there’s the cost to actually fly the F-35: $44,000 per hour for each plane.

You might say this is all beside the point but it is precisely the point. Page 9 of the UW-Extension study states that “a central community economic development strategy” is to “actively pursue dollars taxed away.” In other words, the study posits that Wisconsin is not getting its share of the military pork pie, so we need to chase after some of the tax dollars pilfered from the pocket of Wisconsin residents: $100 million for a jet, $400,000 for a pilot’s helmet, $1.5 trillion for the entire F-35 project, etc. Let’s get our share of this waste back by bringing some of the waste here. A brilliant strategy!

So, if this strikes some of you as a little bit insane, what could we do instead to better our economy? How about more of what’s already working?

The real economic engine in Madison and Dane County is not military waste, amazingly enough, but the high-tech industry. (Or so I’ve been told by someone who knows a lot more about such things than me.) It all started in the 1980s with a company named Cray, Inc., once called Cray Research, up in Chippewa Falls. (You know, that place where Annie Hall hails from.) It so happens that Cray designs and builds the most powerful computers in the world. Some of the technologies developed up there are now in today’s laptops, desktops and most advanced computers. Cray had close ties to the UW through research grants, the UW Industrial Affiliates programs and other campus resources.

New UW faculty were encouraged to develop collaborations with the tech industry from the start and industry funding was highly valued. The collaborative contributions of three dozen UW faculty and many dozens of students, as well as the impressive innovations of Cray, created the climate for high-tech to flourish in the state in the 1980s. There were about 30 high-tech computer startups in Madison during the decade, including Epic, which grew from three to thirty employees in the 80s to over 10,000 today.

The vibrant UW interactions with high-tech companies not only contributed new technology and new startups, but also laid the groundwork for large companies to establish satellite operations in Madison when the time was ripe. For instance, in 2008 a UW grad led the opening of Google Madison, which recently tripled its workforce and is currently led by a former UW professor.

Madison continues to be a thriving center for impressive new high-tech innovations, not just in computing but also in nanotech, bio/med tech, and so forth. The newest innovations will also create important new companies for decades to come, so long as these tech centers continue to thrive.

“Aye, there’s the rub,” to quote Shakespeare, so long as they continue to thrive. My source tells me that a vital ingredient “for all stages of innovative technology creation and development, from the earliest research to the formation of new startups to the expansion of those startups into highly successful companies,” is availability of tech students and new hires. Today we call these people millennials.

Being an old fart, I must confess I’ve never actually met a millennial, but my source, who happens to be on a first-name basis with many millennials, as well as the CFOs of the high-tech corporations, tells me that these millennials are in high demand and can actually choose where they want to live. “Madison is currently one of the top two cities in the U.S. for attracting home-buying millennials,” she says. A key reason is that “the men and women in Dane County have collectively invested several decades in building a thriving, expanding high-tech and related economic base that’s particularly beneficial for young people, as well as for Wisconsin and the U.S.”

These millennials “place a priority on the well-being and lifestyle of themselves and their families, which is the other key reason Madison ranks highly with them today,” she adds. Locating an F-35 training facility at Truax Field, with its high peak decibel noise and the toxic emissions from 43,000 pounds of thrust at take-off, will reduce the quality of life for millennials (and everyone else), and thus undercut, if not reverse our ongoing economic expansion.

“If the F-35 training base is located as close to downtown Madison and the UW as Truax Field, and if our tech millennials and UW faculty scatter to other locations that are continuously vying to recruit them, it will be difficult to regain Madison’s current economic advantage,” she says.

My friend lives on the west side of Madison, across Lake Mendota from the flight path, and still she finds the peak noise level from the current F-16s “excruciating.” She worries that it will affect the quality and value of her own home, both for herself and potential homebuyers.

The most bizarre aspect of the F-35 boosters argument about 64 jobs and the $100 million economic impact is that they are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t even exist. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), “the state’s unemployment rate has reached lows not seen since at least 1976.” Dane County’s unemployment rate hovers around 2.2%, the lowest of all 72 counties. The DWD says that “Employers in the county continue to expand and benefit from a highly-educated labor force, but many struggle to fill open positions.”

Even if there were a problem, the F-35 is not the solution but only a bigger, more expensive problem. Despite the insistence of the Chamber, a few public officials and fawning local media that the F-35 is “state-of-the-art,” defense critics and much of the national media have represented the F-35 for what it is: a cash cow for defense contractors and a boondoggle. It has been a problematic product for decades and will continue to be for decades into the future.

As I write this, here’s another article from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), published on March 11, reporting that a new document reveals the F-35 Program Office has made little progress in fixing the fighter jet’s hundreds of design flaws and continues to discover more of them. The report showed that the program is dealing with 883 unresolved design flaws and has no plans to correct over 160 of them.

POGO cites multiple sources inside the F-35 program as saying that Lockheed Martin and other contractors will not fix the design flaws until the government pays for the changes. “Engineers have identified solutions for 273 flaws, but they remain open either because more funds are needed to fix them or more testing is required to make sure the corrections worked,” POGO reports.

After a paragraph about the programs “technical debt” – problems identified during developmental testing but still not resolved during operational testing – POGO translated it into plain English: “What the testing office is saying in engineering parlance is that the endlessly patched software controlling all the F-35’s components and mission systems is unstable. The “computer that happens to fly” (the F-35) is a densely integrated network of hardware, software, weapons, and mission data. Making a software change to any one component can, and often does, have unintended negative effects on a seemingly unrelated component.

“Despite the triumphant 2018 proclamations that the program had completed its troubled development process, the testing office has reported that development ‘may take years to complete,’ “ the POGO article noted.

Is this the star to which some dreamers in Dane County wish to hitch their economic hopes? Good luck with that. But, if it is local jobs and prosperity you are seeking, I think it might make more sense to stick with what we know is already working.

Link to Project On Government Oversight – F-35 Lightning


PFAS Contamination

When economists talk about the costs and benefits of a particular economic activity or project, one thing that is rarely factored in to the equation is any pollution or other harm to the environment that will be caused. They refer to these hidden costs as “externalities,” if they talk about them at all.

In the case of Truax Field, there is at least one huge “externality” and the public will pay for it, in one way or another. There will probably be an immense economic cost, as well as a considerable health cost, to Madison and Dane County.

The Air Force and Air National Guard (ANG) have been poisoning our water with various PFAS compounds for about fifty years, and with other toxic chemicals long before that. The F-35 boosters claim this is immaterial. Of course, most of them probably don’t have to drink our water; perhaps they don’t fish in our lakes either.

I hope it’s not news to County Board members – whether current supervisors or those about to be elected in April – that the County is very much implicated in this water contamination crisis. The DNR has designated the County as one of the “responsible parties.” The County owns the airport and the land where Truax Field is located.

The County has a lease and a joint use agreement (coming up for renewal) with the ANG. The County is a co-permittee with the ANG on a WPDES stormwater permit first issued by the DNR in 2015, and the airport is responsible for ANG compliance. The County owns the land where Bridges Golf Course sits, (where land and surface water is likely highly contaminated). The County built a new airport parking lot in 2018 over a burn pit on Darwin Road where the ANG (and other entities) used fire-fighting foam containing PFAS. I could go on with this list, but hopefully you get the picture.

To the extent that the county executive has said anything about the water contamination issue during the past year, it has been that he doesn’t have any power. (This has been the stance of most public officials supporting the F-35 project, all the way up to Senator Tammy Baldwin.) As I understand county government, most of the power is in your hands as the legislative body; so too is the accountability and responsibility.

The big questions right now are: Will there be a full investigation and mitigation of the PFAS at the airport and airbase prior to any construction or disturbance of the land (to accommodate the F-35 project); and who is going to pay for it?

In a press release from the Badger Air Community Council, the F-35 boosters quote the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs and the interim Adjutant General, Joane Mathews, in their efforts to refute issues raised by our citizen coalition. No offense intended, but I don’t think these are the most reliable sources, are certainly not neutral, and are not the decision-makers in regard to the F-35 project.

Brigadier General Gary Ebben was appointed in January as interim to replace Adjutant General Donald Dunbar, who resigned in December due to the sexual assault scandal in the Wisconsin Guard. Ebben retired in February and was replaced as interim by Mathews, but Governor Evers appointed Brigadier General Paul Knapp as Adjutant General on February 24. This means that Mathews couldn’t have been on duty as interim for more than a week or two. Just enough time to arrange her desk, clean it off again, and write a long letter to Madison’s mayor. Still reeling from a national scandal, one might wonder why it was so important to the Wisconsin Guard that one of a couple interims in charge of “holding down the fort” should devote much of her scant time on the job in an effort to refute not just local citizens and public officials, but the U.S. Air Force as well.

The Badger Council wrote in their PR piece:

Because there is new construction associated with the F-35 beddown, any contamination that is encountered will be mitigated with funds released for construction, and remove the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs from having to compete for funding from other sources for mitigation.

This is a very strange statement and I doubt that anyone in our coalition is capable of figuring out what it means. I’m hoping members of the County Board might be able to help. A scary part of it is the phrase “any contamination that is encountered,” which seems to confirm our worst fears. It would seem to suggest that the powers-that-be, rather than doing the in-depth investigation and cleanup that is required beforehand, will instead begin their construction project and, if they should happen to run across any pollution problem, (the entire base is severely contaminated), they will just take care of it and move on.

And then it says it “will be mitigated with funds released for construction.” Huh? What’s that about? Are these funds that are to be designated for the construction project? Where are these funds actually coming from? Who will authorize them? Who knows how much it will cost for this cleanup? I doubt if anyone can answer that question yet. More than likely, it will cost millions, maybe hundreds of millions, if it is done right.

I think I understand the last part of this rather mystifying sentence, which reads “remove the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs from having to compete for funding from other sources for mitigation.” This is written in Badger Council code, but it basically means “we are going to get the money from somewhere, (we don’t know where yet), because there’s no way we can “compete” with 400 plus other military bases and their surrounding communities that have a much worse PFAS problem than we have.”

The Environmental Working Group has found that, of the 100 military sites most contaminated with PFAS, 64 of them had groundwater contamination exceeding 100,000 parts per trillion (ppt). Communities have lost their drinking water and a large dairy farm in New Mexico, downstream from an Air Force base, was forced to go out of business and slaughter its whole herd.

So yes, Madison will need to “compete” for federal dollars, but it now can claim PFAS numbers that rival some of the worst sites elsewhere. Testing of soil and groundwater under the base in November 2017 measured PFAS levels of nearly 40,000 ppt, more than 500 times what the EPA considers safe for drinking water. Results of water testing in Starkweather Creek last year revealed PFAS levels over 400 ppt and between 80,000 and 92,000 ppt in foam near the mouth of Lake Monona. Early this year, the DNR found fish in Lake Monona with 110,000 ppt of PFAS concentrations and fish in Starkweather Creek up to 180,000 ppt.

Burn pits near the base have not yet been tested but similar pits at Fort McCoy near Tomah found concentrations of PFAS as high as 120,650 ppt. According to a Wisconsin State Journal article a little over a year ago, a 1989 Army Corps of Engineers study found that fire-fighting foam had been sprayed at one of the two Truax burn pits as often as 15 times a year by military and municipal fire fighters, and that heavy metals, solvents and other hazardous substances were found in groundwater under the site.

Does all this sound like a problem that can be rectified with the claim that “any contamination that is encountered will be mitigated with funds released for construction” . . . ?

Maria Powell of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) wrote a blog piece a couple weeks ago about what a “total sham” the Final EIS for the F-35 project was. “The Final EIS says nothing about a full PFAS site investigation before construction begins and only mentions three hangar locations where construction will occur. This doesn’t remotely describe the likely extent of PFAS contamination on the base,” she wrote. “As the October DNR EIS letter stated, “Results of the 2018 site investigation indicate that there is a likelihood of PFAS contamination in soils and groundwater across much of the installation.” “

She added: “The total acreage of planned construction on the base is almost 33 acres. All of the soils and likely most of the groundwater under and near these 33 acres will be disturbed during construction. Given that the groundwater at the base is very shallow, all or most of these areas will likely need to be “dewatered” – sucking up the shallow groundwater to keep the construction area dry – during construction.”

In a more recent piece published in the Cap Times, Powell noted that the Final EIS says that the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Superfund will guide PFAS investigations. But she has little hope that, based on history, the law will help clean up the military pollution.

Truax Field has been regulated under CERCLA since 1987, according to Powell, and beginning in 1989, many regulated hazardous chemicals were documented at Truax. Despite various negotiations between the DNR and ANG, investigations and remediation were often delayed for years or not done at all.

“After reviewing a 1989 report documenting many toxic contaminants at Truax Field, in 1990 the DNR asked the ANG who was responsible to complete investigations at a heavily contaminated “burn area” constructed in the 1950s by the DoD on Dane County Airport property right next to Starkweather Creek, Powell wrote. “Over 30 years later, this burn pit has not been remediated.”

As Powell noted elsewhere in her article, PFAS compounds are not even deemed hazardous substances under CERCLA at this point. This past year, some legislators introduced PFAS-related provisions into the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). One provision would have mandated water utilities to reduce the amount of PFAS in tap water, and another would have designated PFAS as a toxic substance under Superfund. But both provisions were struck down in the final version of the NDAA.

An article in the Military Times in 2018 quoted Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environmental, Safety & Operational Health, as saying that groundwater sources both on and off base would take years to clean up. “Those groundwater sites will be added to the Department’s long list of environmental cleanup responsibilities it has at each of its more than 2,900 facilities around the world, and will prioritize that cleanup based on risk,” she said.

Sullivan estimated that the groundwater perfluorinate (PFAS) cleanup will add about $2 billion to the $27 billion previously identified cleanup projects for which the DoD is responsible.

The long and short of it is: Madison and Dane County may have a long wait.

In Conclusion

Having said all this, I have to admit that it’s all immaterial. There’s only one real reason to oppose this project: because it’s insane and an obscenity. Those weapons do not belong in a high-density, low-income urban community. They don’t belong anywhere. The arms race, and especially the nuclear arms race, has nothing whatsoever to do with humanity or sanity.

A certain county supervisor generously shared a couple letters from his constituents with me. I am grateful for this. It showed me what we are up against. Someone in Verona says she or he grew up in Columbia County and “it was so exciting to see the fighter jets fly over.” She or he still “loves hearing the planes when they are training. I feel safe.”

A woman in Sun Prairie says the noise is “music to my ears.” She gets goosebumps on her arms. “It is the sound of pride. It is the sound of Freedom.”

This county supervisor is counting the letters, tallying the results, and it appears that the Badger Air Community Council is doing its job. All I can say in response to this is that democracy does not mean you are obligated to be as ignorant as the worst of your constituents. These people should be pitied, not patronized. If the sound of warplanes give them goosebumps, then I think they need a little love in their life. Something is lacking.

I would like to inquire how much of weapons and war it will require to really make them “feel safe?”

The annual U.S. War Budget (I refuse to call it “defense”) is greater than the military budgets of the next seven nations combined. Is that sufficient to make you feel safe? The 2020 U.S. War Budget is $730 billion. (The annual cost of ending world poverty and hunger would be only $265 billion.) The U.S. could cut $350 billion from its military spending and it would still be more than the budgets of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea combined.

If all the nations in the world were to cut their war budgets in half, I imagine we could easily eradicate poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy and all the social problems in the world, and still have funds left over for free ice cream for everyone. And I suspect world peace would follow because there would be nothing to fight over. I suppose that’s just naïve but it sound like common sense to me.

President Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 proposes spending increases for only four government agencies, three of which are war-related. The budget proposes cuts to all other government departments, some quite dramatic. This same budget appropriates 53% of the nation’s discretionary funds to war or war-related programs. Does this make you feel safe?

Bush and Biden and the rest of the scoundrels who started the Iraq War, which unsettled and brought misery to the entire Middle East, did they make you feel safe?

President Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, spent part of his term in office bombing seven different countries at once. Every Tuesday he would meet with his staff and decide who he wanted to assassinate that week. Trump decided he needed to trump him and bombed eight countries at once. Did that make you feel safe?

George W. Bush dropped 24 bombs a day during his eight years in office. Obama dropped 34 bombs per day. During Trump’s first year in office, he dropped 121 bombs per day, for an annual total of 44,096.

Under Trump, five bombs are dropped each hour, every hour of every day. That averages out to a bomb every 12 minutes. That surely must make you feel safe.

If this isn’t shameful and if this isn’t madness, then nothing is.

UN: American airstrikes contribute to record number of children, civilians killed in Afghanistan

List of Countries Overthrown 


I wonder, by the way, if all those constituents of a certain county supervisor, who take so much pride in their military and must feel so “patriotic” ever wonder about what happens to all the soldiers and veterans on duty at home or abroad. Have they ever heard of former Army Specialist Mark Favors and his family, who spent their lives living near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Peterson’s PFAS contamination ranges from 79 to 88,400 ppt. in its on-base wells and 79 to 7,910 ppt. in public and private drinking wells off-base.

Favors, 50 years old, can count at least 16 relatives from the area diagnosed with cancer; ten have died. Six of those relatives have died since 2012, including his father and two cousins. “In my family, there are at least seven military veterans who themselves, along with their spouses and children’s drinking water have been contaminated without their knowledge, while they were on active duty in the U.S. Army and/or deployed to Iraq,” Favors testified to Congress.

I wonder how many of the constituents of a certain county supervisor have any inkling about all the ugly, heinous and obscene things the U.S. empire has done, both to its own soldiers and vets, and hundreds of thousands, perhaps many millions of innocent people here at home and around the world. I suppose it would not make them feel so “safe” if they had even a rudimentary knowledge of U.S. history.

Isn’t it a shame that even here in “liberal” Madison we need to expend so much energy trying to explain to people that it is not necessary or even sensible to waste so much of our common wealth, and so many lives, on weapons and warfare so that we can feel safe. Isn’t it time to leave this primitive thinking behind?

Perhaps our elected officials can set an example.



Tom Boswell

  1. Pierre Sprey Testimony in Burlington on F-35 5-7-2019
  2. More of Tom’s writings may be found at this link to his blog.