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Take Five with Zach Brandon: Losing F-35s, 115th would be like losing Oscar Mayer

(page 1 of 2)

Approval is where the smart money lies, but several Madison alders have asked the military to reconsider the potential placement of F-35 jets at Truax Field in Madison. Madison’s potential selection still has to go through the final stages of a selection process, and following the publication of an environmental-impact statement related to the jets’ deployment, the projected noise levels remain the most contentious issue, but not the only one.

That placement of the F-35, which is necessary to maintain Truax Field as the base of the 115th Fighter Wing, was the subject of a public hearing last week at Alliant Energy Center. Amid displays about the economic impact of the 115th Fighter Wing, various noise-contour maps, and protesters outside the facility, we spoke to Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, about the merits of Madison as a future home of the F-35.

IB: If you’re explaining to a skeptical citizen, especially someone who lives on the east side, about why you think the economic benefits of hosting these jets outweigh any inconvenience they might have with noise abatement and so forth, how would you explain that?

Brandon: There are things that we know and things that we think we know. The things that we know are the base has been here for 71 years, it has always had a flying mission, and that flying mission today generates $100 million of economic output. It employs 1,200 people on the north side of Madison, it provides $1 million in tuition reimbursement for Air National Guard members who are based here, and it provides fire, EMS, and bomb-disposal services at no cost to the airport. That’s money that would either have to be absorbed by county taxpayers or, more likely, by additional fees on our flights and our tickets.

What we expect is that there will be some upside in new jobs. The EIS says 64 new jobs but we don’t know exactly what that [total] will be. But there will be a new group of highly trained, high-tech, well-paid positions that are coming to Madison in order to maintain and administer these aircraft.

We also know there will be 400 construction jobs that will be created in order to build out the new facility. No new runways are necessary. It’s just the new facility, and that facility represents about $100 million of new construction.

And so, when you look at all this in totality, it’s about protecting what has been here because over the life of the jet, it’s $3.3 billion of economic input. And when you think about it as if it were a company — we look at is as though it were an Air Force base — but if we looked at it as if it were a business, and the business was saying ‘we may leave and you’ll lose 1,200 jobs,’ that’s the same size as Oscar Mayer when it closed. It’s the same size as Janesville’s GM plant when it closed, and it’s the same size as Kenosha’s engine plant when it closed. So, when you think about the impact those closings had on those communities, that’s why it’s important.

“If we looked at it as if it were a business, and the business was saying ‘we may leave, and you’ll lose 1,200 jobs,’ that’s the same size as Oscar Mayer when it closed.” — Zach Brandon, president, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce

The other side is what we don’t know — the noise-contour maps, which are imperfect and done by computers. These are not real-life modeling. They do not measure any known sound. It’s a model based on a computer that has inputs that are designed to have the maximum potential impact. We know that they have historically overstated this. So, if you look at the last EIS, the last environmental impact statement that was done in 1996 by Dane County Regional Airport, it said that 1,585 people would be impacted by building a new runway. They built a runway. If you look at the 2008 noise-contour maps from the airport, zero were impacted. So, either the EIS and the inputs overstate the reality, or we are experienced in how to mitigate sound. That sound can be how they take off, where they take off, and the speed in which they leave the airspace.

But you don’t have to look very far to see a community that has been dedicated and committed to mitigating noise. Just drive down the interstate and you’ll see the berms and the walls. Drive down the new Verona Road thoroughfare and you’ll see 40-foot walls that have been built to protect Allied Drive from sound. And you go by train tracks on the near-east side where trains no longer blow their whistles because we’ve invested millions of dollars to help protect those residents, even though they moved next to railroad tracks that have been there for 200 years. We actually helped protect their quality of life.

And so, when you look on par, you know what the economic baseline is. There is upside to that economic baseline, and if there is sound that is beyond what we have today, which is not known, this community has a track record of mitigating it. When you put those things on par, making a decision with imperfect knowledge, you have to believe the tilt goes toward the economic benefit because that has broad effect across this entire region.

IB: What have you been told about how homeowners would be helped and who’ll be funding noise mitigation?

Brandon: This EIS is designed to measure whether the Air Force made the right decision. That EIS will be thrown out, and a new EIS will be done when the jets get here. So, it will be based on a real-life model. As you can imagine, in order to pay people to have sound mitigation, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration], which is the agency that administers the Part 150 grant program, will want to know 100 percent that you’re in a noise contour. They will want a real-life sample of noise in order to say whether you’re in that noise contour. And so, what will happen is this [initial EIS] document will be put on a shelf, a new document will be done that will measure actual sound, and then if people are in the noise contours, then the FAA grant program will start. What that mitigation looks like is, well, you can look at any airport in the world and see the different types of mitigation. But speculating on what home and where, it’s too early to know and then maps won’t be drawn for years.

IB: How could this proposal to base these planes here be sunk? Would the city formally have to forcefully come out and oppose it based on public input? How would that happen?

Brandon: There is only one person who makes the decision and that is the secretary of the Air Force. Certainly, those closest to the federal government could have an impact, but the entire Congressional delegation, the entire Wisconsin delegation, supports this basing. Every single congressperson and both senators [Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson] support this basing.

Update: On Sept. 17, the Madison City Council passed a resolution on a 16–3 vote with one abstention asking the Air Force to reconsider potential plans to place F-35 jets at Truax Field. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, whose district includes the Madison area, also called for additional noise testing, according to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Brandon (continued): Just like in Burlington, Vermont — that was the first National Guard base — and those jets are coming in a matter of weeks. [U.S. Senator] Bernie Sanders, the most liberal member of Congress, supports it. [U.S. Senator] Patrick Leahy, a very liberal member of Congress, supports it. At the end of the day, the Air Force is going to make a decision on what’s best for the defense of our country, and they are going to take a lot of things into account, and they do take noise and impact on the environment into account. But only one person makes that decision after weighing all the public input, all of the studies, all of the measurements that they’ve done on how much it costs to fly here, how much does it cost to live here. They’ve done all those analyses. They take all the input from the public but unless there is something that indicates you have made an incorrect decision on the initial designation — the initial designation [of Madison] has already occurred and right now it’s about a final designation — tonight is about informing the secretary of the Air Force about whether the Air Force’s initial decision to make a basing here is the right decision. And I don’t see anything in the report that I think will change the Secretary of the Air Force’s mind.


Old to new | New to old
Sep 17, 2019 02:03 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

There is a lot of speculations...before anything further is done the F35 jets need to come to Madison for a trial run. Proof is in the pudding.

Sep 17, 2019 09:02 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

We're close to experiencing a global climate and environmental crisis. Can Zach speak to the environmental consequences, beyond noise pollution, like water contamination due to the plant and how that will be mitigated?

Sep 18, 2019 07:08 am
 Posted by  Banker

115th has been in Madison for over 75 years. Not only have they provided national security, but they have been first responders of all kinds of natural disasters in the state and other parts of the country. The economic benefit is huge to not only the greater Madison area, but the state as well. The majority of personnel are part timers that work and live in the area. If the F-35 does not come to Madison, there is the potential loss of over 1,200 employees in our market. Please support the deployment of the F-35s to Madison.

Sep 21, 2019 06:59 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

It's much more about the loath of the military than the noise.

Sep 21, 2019 07:34 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

The F35s aren't much louder than the commercial jets or the F16s that are based out of there currently. There is a full-time force there which launch the F16s every day. They use the same fuel and oil as current F16 and they have people from an environmental agency which measures the surrounding area on a regular basis.

Sep 21, 2019 06:03 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Come to Milwaukee and take a look at all the empty, run down buildings that used to house the 440th Airlift Wing at Gen Mitchell international. They are still empty from 2007 when the base closed. Granted that was an Air Force decision, but that's what you will have in Madison in addition to the lost jobs and income. Lots of empty buildings that no one will want to occupy.

Sep 25, 2019 09:17 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

My guess is that Zach Brandon wouldn't be caught dead in the neighborhoods that would be affected by this.

Sep 25, 2019 02:51 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Economic figures are touted with absolutely no attribution !
The Chamber should be able to back up its estimated economic impact statements .
The Air Force has stated repeatedly that Truax will not be closed if the F35s are not based here .
The Guards EIS cannot be trusted as they admit the effects are best case scenarios .
The Trump administration is in the process of stripping EPA standards and regulations .
The new EIS will be based on the new lax standards that will fall far short of the environmental protections in play now .
The F16s have contaminated the ground water to the extent that well 15 has had to be shut down . They refuse to do anything to clean it up . This does not speak well of the military’s intentions to protect the MADISON area groundwater and lakes and air quality . In fact studies show that our military is the biggest single polluter on the planet . Yet we are supposed to take their statements at face value with no guarantees. There is no doubt toxic chemicals will be released with the F35s with no plan to mitigate of clean up its toxic effects .
These planes have abysmal safety records . Over a trillion dollars has been wasted on a jet that most military experts
Consider a failure . They are designed to carry tactical nukes . Planes flying over densely populated urban areas with nukes should be the SAFEST plane you can get . Not one that rivals the F22 as the unsafest military flying machine
Ever produced . The military can give all the assurances it wants that nukes will not be on board . But training without the reason theses planes exist seems to be a waste and of course we would have no way of knowing one way or the other after they are already here if they are on board or not . The engines on the F35 been replaced with a heavier engine
That requires afterburner take off and landings which means they will be louder than even the EIS states .

Apr 1, 2020 10:58 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

You can't lose something you never had to begin with. Quit manipulating the story and bully people into believing this is the great savior.

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