When Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik was up for reelection he learned what others had learned before him—question anything related to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and you're branded anti-military or anti-base.
All Kozachik did was question the ability of the feds to deliver the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the base and whether or not the noisy planes were a good thing for a city already inundated with aircraft noise.
The neighborhoods in Kozachik's Ward 6 are right under some of the busiest flight paths for base aircraft, which might be why others outspoken about plane noise have credited Kozachik for being willing to take some hits.
Kozachik, who won reelection in 2013, lost a campaign endorsement back then from the Tucson Association of Realtors' after he published a guest opinion in the local daily questioning the F-35.
"For some people in this community you can't even question the base without being accused of being anti-DM or told you want to see the base close. If you raise these questions, the debate is shut down with that," he said.
"That's just foolish. No one wants to see it closed."
What he and others want, he said, is more accountability, communication and transparency. One way to assure that is through the base's ongoing draft Environmental Assessment. A 30-day extension was given back in October for public comment on the draft EA and now Monday, Nov. 24 is the final deadline for public comment. The draft EA looks at visiting flight activities at the base, including the Air National Guard and joint military and foreign military missions.
Complaints about aircraft noise in some Tucson neighborhoods is nothing new, but in this economy, protecting the base seems to be of huge importance to the powers that be. Last year, Tucson City Council passed a resolution in support of the base's A-10 mission when the U.S. Department of Defense threatened to retire the old Warthog planes to save money to invest in new aircraft. For now the aircraft is safe. This year, the Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution in support of the base.
Kozachik told the Weekly that his vote in support of the resolution came with a call to the community to embrace some of the mission taking place at Davis-Monthan. "And that I reserve the right to question future missions."
The public comment period on the draft EA is important, Kozachik said, because it needs work—particularly a more accurate reflection of the impacts the fly-bys have on the community with a baseline that reflects the true number of planes or what kind of planes fly missions from Davis-Monthan now and in the future. For example, while the F-35 convo has died down, Kozachik said it is expected to return, yet the F-35 isn't discussed in the draft EA.
The other is how noise is measured. The draft EA measures noise based on a 24-hour period, as opposed to single incidents, so since it averages all noises together throughout a day, it isn't accurate. What needs to be measured are the single events—those fly-bys that rattle the windows and make it difficult to have conversations, he said.
To call further attention to the looming public comment deadline, members of a group called Tucson Forward released results of a community survey the group commissioned to better understand public interest and concerns with the base, but mostly it was to compare numbers of a similar survey done by the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance.
SADA, formed primarily by business concerns in an effort to rally support around the military installation, released their survey in March, pointing out what they called overwhelming community support and the base's economic contributions—what they claim is close to more than $1 billion.
The group's Mission Strong press release, with Mike Varney from the Tucson Chamber and Ron Shoopman from the Southern Arizona Leadership Council as the main contacts, said 90 percent of Southern Arizonans support military bases and 75 percent surveyed said they had strong or very strong support.
"There was almost no difference in levels of support between residents living closest to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the 162nd Fighter Wing and those who lived in all other areas of Southern Arizona," the press release stated.
SADA used Strongpoint Marketing to conduct its survey of 514 residents between Nov. 21, 2013 and Nov. 26, 2013 living in Pima, Yuma, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties "as well as those areas of Pinal County that could be considered part of the general Tucson area."
"In addition, an intercept-based survey of 103 respondents was executed between December 19 and 29, 2013 in areas adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport (which houses the 162nd Fighter Wing) in order to ensure a robust sub-sample of those living closest to either of the areas that house aircraft in the Tucson region."
According to a report from Tucson Forward, their survey may have included more residents, especially those effected by plane noise in specific Tucson neighborhoods compared to the SADA survey.
Working with Research Randomizer, 4,000 surveys were sent to randomly selected residents and 571 were returned with 1.96 percent of the targeted population included. The SADA survey sample side was 617, and the target population was all of Southern Arizona—0.03 percent of the targeted population.
Tucson Forward member Lee Stanfield told the Weekly that the zip codes published by SADA—none, she said are within the city limits of Tucson. "So those most affected in the city aren't included in their survey." Of those 103 residents living near the base or airport supposedly surveyed by SADA, no zip codes or even major cross streets are provided.
The SADA survey questions, according to Tucson Forward members, were also very broad. One example is that in order to object to overflights, survey participants had to object to all military bases in Southern Arizona. Nothing in the SADA survey also shared Davis-Monthan plans to increase overflights or bringing the F-35 to Tucson or explain the noise level of this particular aircraft.
However, the biggest difference in the two surveys is that in talking to residents who actually live under the flight paths, that overwhelming support mentioned in the Mission Strong press release, is well, not so overwhelming in the Tucson Forward survey.
Almost 57 percent of responses were opposed to replacing the fighters that regularly fly over Tucson with F-18, F-22 and F-35 aircraft. There was also more opposition to increased noise than to increased safety risk.
Residents surveyed also blew away any of the debate rhetoric that those critical of Davis-Monthan must want to support its closure, with 83 percent supporting its existence--with the current fighters and current overflight operation levels. That support drops to 59 percent if the noisier and risky plans are brought in.
The Tucson Forward survey was done with a specific methodology with lists of residents obtained through a list service and then selected randomly by Research Randomizer. Arizona Jet Mail mailed out all surveys the first week of August 2014 and tallied all responses accepted until the first week of October 2014.
Tucson attorney Kathleen Williamson has been part of the ongoing issues centered around overflight noise from military flights for almost 20 years. In 2004 as co-chair of Tucsonans for Quality of Life, she was living in a neighborhood just north of the UA campus and right under the flight path. Now she lives in the southwest area of Tucson, west of the freeway, and not much has changed.
The survey results, she said, will hopefully give a more truthful perspective on how those who do live in affected neighborhoods feel and not a business community version that feels dubious at best. The timing of its release, she hopes, will encourage more people to comment on the base's draft EA and help local politicians better understand how Tucson residents feel.
"Aside from Kozachik. He's the only council person who talks about this issue in his newsletter," she said.
The city and country resolutions, and letters of support, she said, are troubling in that if the SADA survey was the reason for this rally of support, then someone wasn't paying attention.
Stanfield said the 103 people subset in the SADA survey of those questioned closest to the base and airport is what troubles her most. No zip codes provided or cross streets. Tucson Forward asked for that information, but SADA allegedly refused to provide it.
"It looks like they cherry picked the location in Republican strongholds away from central Tucson," Williams added.
In a Valencia Library meeting room, a Sunnyside Neighborhood Association meeting took place recently with an agenda filled with reports on local businesses, Christmas party planning and neighborhood cops sharing crime statistics and extra information on area incidents.
At the end of the agenda, association president Yolanda Herrera asked everyone in the room if they knew about an increase F-16 fighters expected to fly out of the Air National Guard strip. Everyone in the room shook their heads no.
Herrera said she didn't either until someone sent her a link to a Nov. 10 Reuters report on Iraqi F-16 fighters arrival to Tucson in December so Iraqi pilots can train. According to the story, the first three F-16 jet fighters arrive in December, and an additional plane each month through May for a total of eight planes.
Herrera said her neighborhood feels the brunt of the overflights the most, and news of these additional planes coming in made her mad enough to email her military contacts to ask why there wasn't better communication on these changes with her residents? In response, Herrera was told international training has been taking place there since 1989.
On Nov. 13, Herrera replied, "To say 'Internatioanl pilots have trained here since 1989' and 'The Iraqi have been training here since 2012,' does not justify lack of notification to surrounding neighborhoods and establishing better partnerships and communication from all parties including military and government."
"These neighborhoods have been in existence since the '40s and longer. My own family has lived under the flight path since 1952. Currently there are four generations living under that same flight path that the 'training' pilots will fly over. My grandparents lived in this area until they passed."
Herrera continued that the neighborhood has been dealing with high levels of noise for generations, and what's come with that blight where businesses and schools once thrived and increased health issues.
"As I stated in my initial email, 'We understand the need and support of our military, DMAFB and the 162nd National Guard.' Many generations of my family have and continue to serve. We will continue to live here long after officers/pilots rotate in and out of Tucson. Tucson is our community first and foremost, it is our home. So please do not discount or try to minimize our concerns, it is insulting and offensive," she wrote.
"We are simply asking to be notified and kept in the loop before others find the need to raise a red flag. We are trying to rebuild trust and would hate to see history repeat itself."
During the neighborhood association meeting, Herrera asked if they should invite a Davis-Monthan and Air National Guard representative to talk to them about their concerns. Hands raise and audible affirmations were heard throughout the room.
"If they are going to be sending another 16 planes over our heads, we want to know about it," she said.
In the hallway, just before the meeting officially ended, an older neighborhood woman quickly walked up.
"Be sure to mention the windows," she said.
"Yes, let them know that's how we keep time is when they shake. If they bring in more planes, it's only going to get worse."