By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators waded into the debate over whether the Department of Defense should station new F-35 jet fighters in Madison on Tuesday, passing a resolution supporting the idea despite neighbors’ concerns about noise and the project’s possible effects 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. Planning is already underway at Truax for $34 million worth of construction projects that would move forward if Madison were selected. Air Force officials say they need a 19,000-square-foot building to house four F-35 flight simulators, which would be used to train pilots on the new aircraft. Also being sought are new shelters that would be used to house the 115th Fighter Wing’s four existing F-16s while the proposed F-35s were stationed in an existing shelter.
Even so, the Air Force has yet to make a final decision on the 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 uninhabitable.
The outcry has grown louder in recent weeks; the Wisconsin State Journal has published many letters daily from both opponents and supporters of the plan to bring the planes to Madison. 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 plan to bring F-35s to 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 in use for a long time 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 is merely a show of support.
Kurtz and Fitzgerald argued at a news conference Tuesday 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 it 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.”
In a study from 2016, the Netherlands Ministry of Defense concluding that noise from F-35s had been found comparable to that from F-16s at air bases in Volkel and Leeuwarden.
The study found that local residents noted only small differences between the two.
On Tuesday, state Sens. Fred Risser and Jon Erpenbach, two Madison-area Democrats, tried to amend the proposed resolution to ask the Air Force to continue studying the F-35s’ likely environmental and health effects.
“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 resolution has a single Democratic sponsor in Sen. Mark Miller of Monona, a Madison suburb. A former military pilot and retired Wisconsin Air National Guard lieutenant colonel, Miller said nothing during the debate. He told the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday that he believes the F-35 will ensure Truax continues to be used.
The Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution on Thursday.