It’s hard to find an issue that both Democrats and Republicans can rally around. But the Air Force’s decision to bring F-35s to Truax Field has lawmakers from both parties celebrating.
“This is outstanding news for the State of Wisconsin,” declared a statement from Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
“I have been proud to play a lead role within the Wisconsin Congressional delegation advocating for the 115th, and I am pleased that the Air Force has recognized the tremendous strategic, geographic and economic capabilities that Truax offers,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
East side resident Ed Blume isn’t quite as ebullient.
“I don’t understand why somebody like Tammy Baldwin would think this is a good thing,” said Blume, a member of the group No F-35 At Truax Field. “Why is more military spending a good thing? Why are deafening jets over Madison a good thing?”
Federal officials announced Thursday that Truax Field will be one of two preferred Air National Guard bases to house the new-generation fighter planes, but the decision won’t be final until the completion of an environmental impact study, a site assessment at all five finalist sites and public hearings. Dannelly Field in Alabama is the other preferred site.
Air Force officials have not said definitively whether the F-35A Lightening II will be louder than the F-16s currently operating at the airfield.
Blume thinks he knows the answer.
“They will be louder,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”
The Wisconsin congressional delegation and local business leaders have been selling Wisconsin as a home for the jets, manufactured by Lockheed Martin at a cost of about $85 million each. If it makes the final hurdle, Truax will house 18 of the aircraft, which local and state officials hope will bring an economic boost to the area.
The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce even launched a website, Together Truax, to market Madison as a contender for the jets.
On the city government level, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin lauded the decision, calling it “wonderful news” and expressing confidence that after the environmental impact study there will be “more good news to come.”
“Today’s announcement is truly an early holiday gift for many families, and for the entire area,” he said.
David Ahrens, a Madison alder who represents the east side, has a different perspective. He fields complaints from his constituents, and he’s complained about the noise himself.
“I live on the east side and I heard (the F-16s) this morning,” he said. “And of course in the summer when they’re all going through the two-weeks training, it’s pretty intense.”
He added: “It seems that they’re always more or less circling the east side as opposed to finding a route north that goes in rural areas. To me it’s just dangerous. Aside from the noise factor, if those things crash it’s a disaster.”
Steve Klafka, an environmental engineer who lives and works on the east side, said he’s been pressing for the city to oppose the new jets. He drafted a resolution, gave it to his alder, Marsha Rummel, but it was never introduced.
“It would have been great to have some public debate about it,” he said.
He called the F-35 a “waste of $2 billion” and complained that the east side and challenged neighborhoods near Truax Field get the impact from the jets, but none of the economic benefits.
“We’ve got Trump, we’ve got Walker, we’ve got Republican majorities in the Legislature and Congress, so maybe this is a sign of the times,” he said.
After being reminded that the Democrats in the state congressional delegation supported the F-35 as well, he said, “Yeah, well, maybe they’ve gone to the right as well.”