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ID residents sue Air Force to block ‘disruptive’ air training

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle aircraft assigned to the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron responds to an alert scramble notification at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, Sept. 4, 2017. (MATTHEW PLEW/U.S. AIR FORCE)
April 09, 2019

Idaho residents have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force in opposition to numerous training exercises over nine cities in the southern area of the state.

Nonprofit environmental group Great Old Broads for Wilderness and seven residents of Boise filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Idaho last week, alleging that the exercises pose too many hazards and should be prohibited, KVTB News reported.

The lawsuit challenges the “Urban Close Air Support Air and Ground Training Project” that creates training programs at bases in nine southern Idaho cities and permits “thousands of annual overflights” of fighter jets, combined with ground exercises.

“The Urban CAS Training Project endangers the health, safety, and quality of life of Idahoans, as well as birds and wildlife,” the lawsuit alleges. “Hundreds of thousands of residents in Boise and other cities and towns in southern Idaho would be exposed in their homes, work places, and popular recreation areas to disruptive jet noise with the potential to interrupt sleep cycles, interfere with work and school, and otherwise harm their quality of life.”

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The exercises could be held around the clock up to 160 times per year.

Sarah Stellberg, an attorney with Advocates for the West who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit also challenges “a lack of environmental review.”

However, the Air Force released an environmental assessment in November which found that the training project posed “no significant impact” on “noise, air quality, airspace management, land use, cultural resources, and health and safety.”

“All activities were found to comply with the criteria or standards of environmental quality and were coordinated with the appropriate federal, state and local agencies,” the assessment stated.

The Air Force has reassured that all aircraft training exercises will be at such an altitude, it will not pose a significant noise interference.

“When we do execute this training, we’ll be more than 10,000 feet above the ground, which is more than two miles up,” Maj. Dave Bervig, an F-15E pilot with the 366 Fighter Wing, told KVTB.

In fact, another Air Force environmental assessment determined that the loudest exercise involving a formation of four F-15s would reach 72.3 decibels, approximately the same level as heavy traffic from 150 feet away, or a vacuum cleaner and 10 feet.

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The plaintiffs insist that the Air Force hasn’t explored enough alternatives to the intrusive urban exercises. The Air Force contends that urban training is essential.

“The urban close air support program is valuable because it does give us realistic training in that complex and dynamic environment,” Stellberg said. “And it enables us to develop the skillsets we need in order to be successful in combat. What that means to us, it means we are able to ensure we can bring more of our troops home safe to their families.”