Community responds to plans locate F-35 squadrons in city


Rin Statz/Clarion

A community member speaks at the Alliant Energy Center during a National Guard Bureau meeting to discuss the environmental impact of bringing two squadrons of F-35A aircraft to the Dane County Regional Airport.

Chris Bird, News Editor

The Dane County Regional Airport has been selected as a preferred location to establish an F-35A operational squadron of two 18 plane squadrons with two backup aircraft. The National Guard Bureau has selected five possible installations to house these squadrons, and two will receive the F-35A planes. The two preferred locations out of these five was announced by The Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan to be the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin and Montgomery Regional Airport in Montgomery, Alabama.

The locations chosen by the National Guard Bureau were selected based on a series of criteria. The facility has to meet flying requirements for a Special Use Airspace for the National Guard, have adequate hangar space, and have a training range. Finally, factors such as environmental constraints at locations, including air quality, weather, and future developments, along with analyzing potential costs were also considered.

Ahead of making a final decision on where the F-35s will be housed, the United States Air Force has released an environmental impact statement to analyze the potential effects that hosting the F-35 planes may have on the area around the Dane County Regional Airport. The contents of this report, as well as the potential costs and benefits outlined by the United States Air Force has been the source of a passionate and varied response from the people of Madison.

Sept. 11 Community Meeting

On Sept. 11 a community meeting was held in Sherman Middle School that was organized by City Alders Marsha Rummel from District 6, Syed Abbas from District 12, and Grant Foster from District 15. The Alders, and a majority of those who got up to speak during the meeting, were concerned that there will be too many negative impacts on the area around the airport as a result of housing the F-35s.

Many spoke out about the increase in noise that will come as a result of F-35 flights in the area. In the Environmental Impact Statement, the change in noise is described as “significant in the area surrounding the airfield.” The report measured theoretical noise levels in the surrounding area in average decibels over a 24-hour period as a result of F-35s being active in the Dane County Airport. Areas that experience over a 65-decibels noise level are considered significant by the Federal Government, and would potentially qualify those within the area for aid to help mitigate the noise indoors. By bringing F-35s to the Dane County Airport “the number of households located within the 65 dBs(decibels) DNL(day-night average sound level) contour would increase by 1,019 and the number of people exposed would increase by 2,215. One hundred thirty-two of the households and 292 persons would be located in the 70-75 DNL contour where housing is incompatible absent an exception,” according to the Environmental Impact Statement.

The Alders expressed concern that the impact of the increase in noise would have a disproportionate effect on the minority population and children. According to the Environmental Impact Statement: “The increases in noise exposure to the south of the airport would disproportionately impact low-income areas and the increase in noise exposure to the east of the airport would disproportionately impact a low-income minority population. In addition, the Proposed Action could disproportionately impact children.”

Some of those gathered at Sherman Middle School also expressed concern that bringing F-35s to Madison would make the city a more significant target for an attack, especially in the case of a nuclear war. There were voices at the meeting that expressed a desire for the F-35s to come to Dane County Regional Airport. Community members expressed their support for the 115 Fighter Wing, and the proposed new jobs that may be gained as well as further increasing the capabilities of our local Air Force and National Guard.

National Guard EIS Meeting Sept. 12

On Sept. 12, the day following the community meeting in Sherman Middle School, an Air National Guard F-35 Environmental Impact Statement meeting was held. The meeting consisted of the Air National Guard sharing a summary of the contents, and accepting public questions and comments to be taken into consideration, overseen by Lt. Col. Sterling Pendleton, 21 Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate.

Before the meeting began, groups gathered outside the building to let their voices be heard. A gathering of those opposed to F-35s coming to Madison included groups such as the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 171, and the Family Farm Defenders.

Dr. Ann Behrman, of the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility, spoke to the crowd. Dr. Behrman voiced concerns about effects the noise from F-35s could have on public health in Madison, and strongly opposed the idea of nuclear weapons coming to the city. Alder Syed Abbas also spoke, sharing similar concerns.

Supporters of the F-35s donned blue hats and stickers on their shirts. Two of the larger groups in favor of the F-35s were Together Truax and the Badger Air Community Council.

The crowd was more split between those who supported the F-35s and those who opposed the new planes coming to Madison compared to the crowd at the Sept. 11 community meeting. Many in the crowd could be seen wearing hats and stickers to show their support of the F-35s, and many of those who rose to give public comments spoke of their desire for the planes to come to the Dane County Regional Airport.

Community Response Moving Forward

The public comments presented at the Sept. 12 meeting, if found to substantive, are all to be addressed by the Air Force in a future report. Originally, the deadline for public comments to be considered by the Air Force when making the decision for whether the F-35s will come to Madison was Friday, Sept. 27. In response to formal requests from U.S. Representative Mark Pocan and State Representative Chris Taylor, the deadline for public comment has now been extended to Nov. 1.

This deadline was extended to help address community concerns, according to the Air Force. “The Air Force wants to provide all interested parties with every opportunity to provide input to the proposed action to bed down F-35s at Truax through the environmental impact statement process,” wrote Lt. Col. Steven Fowler.

The Madison Common Council and Education Board passed resolutions asking the Air Force to reconsider choosing Dane County Regional Airport if the concerns outlined in the report are accurate, unless the Air Force makes plans to address the issues outlined. The Madison Water Utility Board also released a statement saying that the Air Force should not be allowed to start construction for this project without first investigating perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances(PFAs) that may be contaminating water around the airport as a result of firefighting chemicals used at the airport. The Water Utility Board stated the Air Force should not proceed “without a complete site investigation that defines the extent and nature of PFAs contamination in soil and groundwater.”

Prominent members of the Madison, and Wisconsin community have shown their support for the F-335s coming to Dane County Regional Airport. Senator Ron Johnson and Senator Tammy Baldwin have both expressed their support for the proposal in statements. Within Madison, The Chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rebecca Blank, and the President of Madison College, Dr. Jack Daniels III have both expressed their support, as well as Zach Brandon, President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

Ultimately, the decision to house F-35s in Madison will be made by the federal government, but it is still possible for members of the community to influence the decision by submitting comments to the Air Force and reaching out to representatives of our community. If any person would like to share their thoughts in an official comment for the National Guard Bureau or read the Environmental Impact Statement they can visit