Tensions ran high between Tucsonans and local community leaders last Tuesday evening over the potential plan to house the F-35A Lightning II Aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as a replacement to the A-10 Thunderbolt II during a public hearing at the Tucson Convention Center.
Many local residents expressed concern over potential noise pollution caused by the F-35A that registers at 65 decibels or more. The decibel range is as loud as being in the same room as a washing machine, according to Centers for Disease Control website.
“I can barely get my hands over my ears to stop the pain levels that occurs when one of these planes fly over,” said Julia Keen Neighborhood resident Peter Dooley. TUSD closed Julia Keen Elementary School due to Davis-Monthan aircraft noise in 2004. “If anyone says they haven’t heard any complaints from residents, they haven’t spent much time in Julia Keen.”
Davis-Monthan is one of three bases selected as an alternate location to the Naval Air Station Joint Base in Dallas/Fort Worth, should the Air Force Reserve Command decide to not station the F-35A in Texas. The hearing gave Command officials a chance to listen to the concerns of community members. The community input will help draft an Environmental Impact Statement to help the Command determine the best location for their F-35 Operational Bed-Down.
“The goal of this effort is to ensure that fighter aircraft are the best available to support a high threat, multirole war capability to commanders worldwide,” said hearing moderator Col. Tobin C. Griffeth. “The Air Force is proposing to establish the AFRC bed-down at one Air Force installation in the continental United States where the AFRC could lead a global precision attack mission.”
According to the impact study, if the F-35A bed-down mission comes to Tucson, locals could expect “an estimated 1,361 to 1,506 would be exposed to Day/Night levels of 65 decibels or greater. Significant impact to socioeconomic resources would also result from the noise impact to schools. Implementation of the proposed mission would also result in the disproportionate impact to minority and low-income populations.”
If the Command decides to station the F-35 at Homestead AFB in Florida, only six to eight residential acres would be impacted, affecting 104 residents of the area, according to the impact study.
While Tucson isn’t No. 1 on the Command’s list, several political leaders such as Pima County Supervisors Ramón Valdez and Steve Christy, along with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry spoke in favor of the proposed “bed-down mission,” hoping the Air Force will bring the F-35A to the Old Pueblo. Valdez said the county fully supports the mission despite the problems that arise from aircraft noise in his district.
“The council supports the EIS process and understand the findings of the F-35A aircraft,” Valdez said. “We further understand the basis behind the resulting increase in noise contours and potential impact to surrounding neighborhoods,”
Ron Barber, district director for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, read a statement from the congresswoman in support of the proposed bed-down at Davis-Monthan.
“I have no doubt that the Tucson Community will continue to support the future Air Force missions at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base,” Barber said on behalf of Kirkpatrick. “Ranked consistently as one of the sunniest cities in America, Tucson will provide an incredible environment, not only to the F-35 but to the airmen stationed at Davis Monthan.”
While more residents spoke out against the F-35 coming to Tucson, some residents welcome the sound of the aircraft. Local Robin Stoddard said “most of the complaints of aircraft noise are from a handful of individuals” who have been saying the same thing for decades.
“This jet noise is not something that has to be put up with. It’s the noise of freedom,” Stoddard said. “It’s the noise of a chance to survive dreadful captivity.”
But midtown resident Elizabeth Hubbard calls the sound of the aircraft “an American nightmare” that’s she and her neighbors live through each day. Hubbard said she spends a lot of time at Reid Park near her house. When the planes fly over she said she “needs to find shelter from the freedom” and is concerned with all the cases of cancer that are popping up in her neighborhood. Hubbard said believes it’s linked to the aircraft and Davis Monthan.
Before finishing her statement, Hubbard had something to say to the political and business community in attendance.
“You don’t care about children being disturbed in the classroom?” Hubbard said while looking at Barber and others. “I have seen a lot of corporate whores here tonight…you’re disgusting.”