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F-35s in Idaho would cause ‘significant’ noise, make houses unlivable, report finds

Lockheed Martin F-35 "Lightning II's" from Turkey. (Robert Sullivan/Flickr)

A draft environmental impact statement from the Air Force says the possible stationing of F-35A fighter jets at Gowen Field would cause “significant” noise in the surrounding area, potentially making hundreds of home unlivable.

F-35A jets may never be stationed in Boise, since the Air Force decided two years ago that it prefers two sites elsewhere. But the city remains a backup candidate, and the Air Force has released a draft 1,099-page environmental statement on all five potential sites.

The statement said 272 households with about 665 people would regularly be subjected to noise as loud as a vacuum cleaner 3 feet away. Those people live on 446 acres stretching from Victory Road to South Federal Way and from West Overland Road to land south of the Boise Airport, which adjoins Gowen. Most of the households are between South Orchard and South Owyhee streets.

Owyhee-Harbor Elementary School, located on Pasadena Drive, was named as one place within that acreage where would sound would be near 65 decibels at an average point — vacuum-cleaner volume.

The noise would be even louder on 74 acres closest to the airport that house 83 households, estimated to be 199 people.

Those residents would be subjected to 74 decibels at an average point in the day, and up to 80. Eighty decibels is as loud as a garbage disposal, and eight hours of exposure could damage hearing. The Air Force statement said such volumes would render those acres “potentially incompatible for residential land use.”

The jets would have a “negligible impact” on the housing market in Boise, according to the statement, but some Boiseans contest that.

“Most of the housing in that area by the airport is affordable,” said John Gannon, a Democrat who represents Idaho’s 17th district in the Idaho House and is as a member of Citizens for a Livable Boise, a group focused on the impacts of noise from the Boise Airport. “You decide whether the community can afford to lose 272 more affordable houses.”

Many residents have been worried about the sound the jets would bring. If Boise were selected, the fleet of F-35As would replace the decades-old A-10 warplanes nicknamed Warthogs.

But the Air Force said in 2017 that it favored the Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison, Wisconsin, and Dannelly Field Air Guard Station in Montgomery, Alabama.

Gowen Field is considered a “reasonable alternative” and still could be considered if the Wisconsin or Alabama choices did not work out. Other “reasonable alternatives” include Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida and the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan.

Mike Journee, spokesman for Boise Mayor David Bieter, said Monday that he would not comment on how Boiseans would potentially need to move because the city is no longer a preferred site. “It seems the study is irrelevant, seeing that Gowen Field is not being considered,” Journee said.

Boise city and business leaders have expressed desire to keep flying missions in the Treasure Valley in the past. After the Air Force announced its 2017 preference, Bieter said Boise could still be in the running for a future round of F-35A deployments.

“Gowen and our airspace are so valuable that the plan of the Air Force now is to keep a fighting mission at Gowen Field for years to come,” Bieter said then. “I believe that we will have an F-35 someday in the future.”

Gannon said that as Boise’s population grows, the pressure on the airport will only increase.

“I am in favor of the F-35s here in Boise if they can make it compatible, if they can come with a plan,” he said. “That’s the challenge I have for them. Come up with a plan that works and show us that plan. That has never been done.”

The environmental statement also said several schools would be in the “region of interest,” the area that would experience an increase in “events causing speech interference.” In layman’s terms, that means people would find themselves unable to hold conversations at a normal volume.

The schools are Silver Sage Elementary on West Snohomish Street, Hawthorne Elementary on West Targee Street and West Junior High School and Frank Church High School, both on West Salt Creek Court.

An F-35A mission in Boise would have no significant effect on air quality or safety, the environmental statement said. Stationing the jets here could bring up to 85 military personnel but would have no significant socioeconomic impacts on the area, the statement said.

A spokesperson for Gowen Field was not available to comment.

The draft is now subject to public comments, which must be received by Sept. 27 to be considered during the development of the final environmental impact statement.


© 2019 The Idaho Statesman