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Hundreds attend public hearing on F-35s

MADISON (WKOW) — As the process to bring F-35 jets to Madison continues, hundreds came out to the National Guard’s public hearing and open house to voice their concern or support.

The F-35s would replace 18 F-16 jets currently at Truax Field, home to the 115th Fighter Wing. The base is one of five possible locations for a squadron of 20 F-35 jets.

The National Guard held an open house before a public hearing on their draft environmental impact statement to explain why they believe their base is a good candidate for the jets.

According to those who work at the base, their current F-16s are nearing the end of their life. Capt. Leslie Westmont said getting a set of F-35s will set the base up for decades into the future. Without it, she said they’re not sure where the base goes next.

“Our airplanes are old and eventually they’re going to run out of service hours and we’re not going to fly them any more and that means is we don’t know and our future is uncertain,” she said.

Opponents of the F-35s made their presence known before the meeting setting up a rally outside the event. Many who live in the area expressed their concerns about the noise that comes with the jets.

Reports show more people on the northeast side will be living close enough to hear an average sound level of 65 decibels if they come to Madison. Some fear that will that will bring lower property values, hurt businesses nearby and greatly impact their quality of life, especially those like Gil Halsted who said he already deals with the F-16 noise.

“Well I live in the flight path of the current F-16s who buzz over my house on a regular basis and the F-35s I assume use the same flight path so I’m very aware of them being there and disturbing my peace,” he said.

According to the aerospace engineers who designed the engine for the F-35 it’s up to nine decibels louder during takeoff than the F-16s.

The 115th Fighter Wing said there’s noise abatement options available, and for most homes the sound would only be a little louder than a vacuum cleaner.

Neighbors like Mark Ewig voiced their doubts during the public hearing portion of the night’s meeting.

“I don’t understand or believe the 65 vacuum cleaner story,” he said. “The jets are flying over my house today and they’re much louder than my vacuum cleaner.”

Supporters of the jets include the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce. President Zach Brandon said Truax Field already brings more than 1200 jobs to the region, so securing their future would help Madison economically, but bringing in the F-35’s would mean an additional 400 construction jobs and 64 long-term positions at the base.

“The base and those 1200 employees put a $100 million of economic output into region and when you multiply that by the life of this aircraft, that’s $3.3 billion,” he said.

Additionally he said the Chamber has not received a single complaint from a business owner in the area about the impact of F-35s.

The National Guard will continue to receive public comment on the environmental impact statement until September 27. From there they’ll draft responses to those comments in their final EIS which will be published in January.

The Air Force will consider that EIS before making the final decision on bringing the aircrafts to Madison.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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