Little has been heard around town regarding something that could change Tucson forever—the F-35.
The Air Force is holding hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 22 and 23, to receive public comment on an environmental impact statement that proposes bringing the military's loudest jet to a commercial airport.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires that an EIS be done when the federal government proposes substantial changes. Some think that if nobody knows about these changes, dissent will quietly go away.
About a month ago, the Air Force sent out a slick executive summary along with a CD of the 1,000-page draft EIS. The Air Force has asked the public to comment on their proposal to station up to 72 F-35s at the Tucson Air National Guard Station at the Tucson International Airport. You can find the EIS online at www.f-35atrainingeis.com.
It's pretty tough stuff for the ordinary guy to understand. The data originally published listed the noise level of the F-35A to be 22 decibels louder than the F-16C upon landing. Without explanation, the Air Force changed 22 decibels to nine decibels.
It doesn't make sense to house the F-35 at TIA. This new jet is too loud for a commercial airport in a metropolitan area. Along with increased noise, there is also increased force, which can shake buildings and break windows. Especially in light of the recently altered noise data, it is important that a flyover be done so that Tucsonans can see how loud the jet actually is in a dry desert area surrounded by mountains. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Military Community Relations Committee and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, prior to his election, all called for a local flyover of the F-35.
The safety-risk analysis in the EIS is pure conjecture. The F-35 is a brand-new aircraft incorporating new technologies. There is no historical safety data. The EIS simply states: "Because the F-35A is a new aircraft that is under development, some data normally used to predict noise, air quality and safety conditions cannot be obtained at this time." It then strangely concludes that "there would be no anticipated increase in safety risks associated with aircraft mishaps."
There is also a question of environmental justice, one of the NEPA criteria. The Tucson International Airport is the only one of the four F-35 alternatives where the draft EIS clearly states that the noise impact will fall disproportionately on low-income and minority populations. At the assignment level of 72 F-35As, it is projected that an additional 8,128 residents will be affected by noise levels greater than 65 decibels. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense state that areas with noise levels greater than 65 decibels are "incompatible with residential use."
Many of those supporting the proposal say: "Tucson needs jobs." However, these jobs may not go to current residents. This will be a short-term gain and does not take into account the long-term loss of income from the tourism industry or property-tax revenue.
The supporters of bringing the F-35 to town include many of our friends, like the moving-company owner who has Air Force contracts and lives in the foothills, and the restaurant owner who also lives in the foothills and is flattered by being named an honorary wing commander. He is told that the F-35 will bring him more business. However, his home won't experience the consequences of an airplane with 45,000 pounds of thrust.
The F-35 draft EIS public hearings will include an open-house information session from 5 to 6 p.m., followed by a presentation and formal public-comment session from 6 to 8 p.m. Representatives from the Air Force will be available during the open-house sessions to provide information and to answer questions. The sessions take place on Wednesday, Feb. 22, in the North Ballroom at the Holiday Inn Tucson Airport, 4550 S. Palo Verde Road; and on Thursday, Feb. 23, in the auditorium of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road.
The deadline for public comment is March 14. Comments can be submitted via email.