MADISON, Wis. — Republican legislators waded into the debate over whether defense officials should station new F-35 jet fighters in Madison on Tuesday, passing a resolution supporting the idea despite neighborhood concerns about the noise and the effects it would have on property values.
The Air Force in 2017 selected Truax Field in Madison and Dannelly Field in Montgomery, Alabama, as two preferred sites to house F-35s. The jets would replace Truax’s aging fleet of F-16s.
The Air Force has yet to make a final decision on sites. But the possibility of the jets coming to Madison has left residents around Truax besides themselves. A draft environmental impact statement found that noise from the F-35s could render more than 1,000 homes “incompatible for residential use.” A Wisconsin National Guard spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking a definition of the term.
With unanswered questions and increasingly vocal opposition from some residents, Madison's City Council has asked the Air Force to potentially reconsider Truax Field as a preferred site for a squadron of F-35 fighters, while 15 Dane County supervisors have signed a letter opposing the jets.
The outcry has grown louder in recent weeks, with the Wisconsin State Journal publishing multiple letters daily from people opposing and supporting the planes. Democratic legislators from the area have urged the Air Force to slow down.
Republican lawmakers love to bash Madison, a liberal enclave and Democratic stronghold. Republican state Rep. Tony Kurtz and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald quietly introduced a resolution on Friday supporting the F-35s at Truax.
Fitzgerald served in the Army Reserve and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He’s running for Congress in a district that includes some of Milwaukee’s heavily Republican suburbs. Kurtz was an Army helicopter pilot from 1985 to 2005 and served in the Persian Gulf.
The resolution declares that the new jets will allow the Air Force to maintain its dominance, ensure that Truax remains viable and create dozens of new jobs. The resolution also states that the jets would work together with the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee and Volk Field, a training base in Juneau County. The resolution isn’t binding and acts as a symbolic show of support.
Kurtz and Fitzgerald argued at a news conference Tuesday touting the resolution that the F-35s would benefit the entire state, pointing out that the planes would complement the 128th’s refueling mission, use Volk Field for training maneuvers and give Truax a new mission that would keep the field open.
“It’s not about what’s going on up in the sky when it comes to the F-35,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s about what’s going on on the ground. Let’s maintain Truax, let’s maintain the buildings, the units, the civilian personnel, everyone that’s involved at Truax right now.”
Kurtz said he believes concerns about noise are overblown.
“This is being over-exaggerated as far as the noise levels,” he said. “This is going to be no different than what the F-16 does.”
The Netherlands Ministry of Defense conducted a 2016 study comparing the noise from F-35s to F-16s at air bases in Volkel and Leeuwarden. The study found that local residents noted only small differences between the two.
The environmental impact statement for Truax found that the F-16s generate 95 to 110 decibels, depending on the point they’re flying over. It found that F-35s, by comparison, would generate between 97 and 116 decibels.
According to UW Health, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s medical arm, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, a lawn mower is about 90 and a loud rock concert is about 120. Generally sounds over 85 decibels can be harmful, depending on frequency and duration of exposure.
The Senate took up the resolution hours after Fitzgerald and Kurtz’s news conference. Sens. Fred Risser and Jon Erpenbach, two Madison-area Democrats, tried to amend the resolution to ask the Air Force to continue studying the F-35s’ environmental and health impacts.
“I can tell you noise is a way of actually threatening people,” Risser said. “It’s torture.”
Republicans defeated the amendment on a voice vote and immediately passed the resolution on another voice vote.
The Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution Thursday.
This story has been updated to correct that the environmental impact statement found that more than 1,000 homes would be incompatible for residential use, not uninhabitable.