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Davis-Monthan AFB too loud, busy, residents claim in lawsuit

January 26, 2016 (Photo Credit: Senior Airman Chris Massey/Air Force)

A few residents living near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, want the Air Force to reinvestigate whether more military flights are harming their health.

Plaintiffs Rita Ornelas, Gary Hunter and Anita Scales filed a complaint in district court Friday asking the Air Force to reissue an Environmental Impact Statement — a type of environmental review — because they believe the assessment was “not adequately performed,” Joy Cardillo, their attorney, told Air Force Times.

Earlier media reports suggested the plaintiffs filed an injunction asking the Air Force to stop increasing aircraft sorties from the base altogether, but “we have not sought any kind of injunctive relief that would suspend the [Air Force’s] program,” Cardillo, who’s representing them on behalf of non-profit Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said.

“We’ve simply asked with a mandatory injunction that would compel what we believe would be a more comprehensive and more accurate environmental analysis ... of the noise and health impact to the residents and the children in the flight pattern,” Cardillo said Monday.  

In May 2015, the Air Force approved a Total Force Training Mission that would increase flights from visiting units to practice takeoffs and landings, an increase that would total 2,326 annually, court documents show. 

Cardillo said that in the previous EIS report, issued the same month as the increased sortie approval, “some of the data they used as their baseline understates the impact of the increase.”

“Their proposal to increase to almost 2,500, when in previous years it’s been less, is a pretty dramatic increase,” she said. “They tried to minimize the impact.” 

The court documents also allege the Air Force failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, because NEPA requires “federal agencies to prepare a detailed environmental statement before undertaking any ‘major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.' ” 

Cardillo said there could be long-lasting effects — not just for the immediately adjacent neighborhoods — as well, and a new EIS could pinpoint those consequences. 

The Air Force has 60 days to respond to the complaint. 

"Davis-Monthan Air Force Base fully complied with all applicable laws when conducting its Total Force Training Environmental Assessment," 2nd Lt Sydney Smith told Air Force Times in an email.

"The [environmental assessment] places a cap on the total number of annual Total Force Training flights," she continued. "It should be noted that even if we reached that cap, all TFT flights combined would represent less than 6 percent of the total DM annual airfield operation numbers."

Smith said she could not comment further on the specifics of the pending litigation.

Davis-Monthan supports various units under Air Combat Command, including the 355th Fighter Wing, responsible for training and deploying A-10 pilots. 

The base’s aircraft inventory includes 83 A-10Cs, 14 EC-130s, 5 HC-130Js, a dozen HH-60Gs, a contingent of F-16s, and 4,200 assorted aircraft in the aircraft boneyard, according to the Air Force

If the residents should be successful in their complaint, they “will seek an award of costs and attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act,” the court documents say. 

 

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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