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Michigan: We’ll take F-35 jets if Wisconsin doesn’t want them

F35A (U.S. Air Force/WikiCommons)

Michigan congressional members have a message for the new U.S. Air Force secretary.

We’ll take the F-35 fighter jets if Wisconsin doesn’t want them.

A bipartisan majority of Michigan’s congressional delegation members have signed a letter to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, urging her to select Selfridge Air National Guard Base as one of the locations to host the Air National Guard’s next F-35A operational bases after the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In December 2017, the Harrison Township base lost a bid to be one of two preferred alternative locations for the F-35s.

Bases in Alabama and Wisconsin were selected instead of Selfridge, which was among five National Guard bases across the country competing to be one of the two homes to the new fighter aircraft. The aircraft are to go to the new bases beginning in 2023.

But there has been concern in Madison, Wisconsin, from officials and residents about the F-35s going to Truax Field Air National Guard Base, which is about 6 miles northeast of the city.

“We understand that last month, the City of Madison submitted a letter with 22 pages of public comments, tasking the Air Force with 25 questions to be resolved in the Final EIS, and requesting that if those questions are not satisfactorily answered, you, as Secretary of the Air Force, reconsider listing Truax Field as a preferred location,” according to the Michigan delegation’s letter dated Monday. “In addition to numerous complaints about the F-35 mission from individual Madison residents, the Madison Common Council also passed a resolution raising the community’s substantial concerns with basing the F-35A mission at Truax Field.”

It continued: “Macomb County, Michigan’s residents and elected officials welcome a potential F-35 mission and have consistently offered community support to Selfridge and its tenants. Selfridge offers the capabilities and facilities ideally suited to sustain F-35 operations.”

The letter is signed by Michigan’s two U.S. senators and 12 of its 14 members of Congress.

Selfridge is a joint Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security installation with more than 40 tenants; about 1,200 people in its daily workforce, and a traditional guard/reserve force of close to 5,000. The airfield has been in the community for more than a century.

The KC-135 Stratotanker, an aerial refueler, and the A-10 Thunderbolt II are at the base. The Michigan delegation letter stated that converting Selfridge to the F-35As would allow the distribution of A-10 aircraft to other Air National Guard units.

In a Nov. 1 letter on the city of Madison’s website, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway submitted comments, concerns and questions that she expects will be addressed in the Final EIS. She also asked the Air Force secretary to “reconsider listing Truax Field as a preferred location before making a final decision on when to bed-down the F-35 fighter jets.”

The concerns cited in her letter include: the impact on children and low-income residents in the areas most impacted by the noise of jet operations; the impact on public housing investments around the field; existing contamination from PFAS chemicals that are threatening Madison’s water supply; storm water and other environmental concerns, and what she wrote is “considerable confusion and deep community concern about the type and levels of noise associated with F-35 operations.”

The mayor’s letter states that officials, including those in the city and those on school, county, community development authority and water utility boards, in addition to community groups and residents have “all expressed grave concerns with the potential impacts of an operational bed-down of F-35s at Truax Field.”

Her letter added: “If there are options that represent less harm to communities and the environment, as it appears in the draft EIS, those options should be preferred. If preferred locations, such as Madison, are known to have significant negative impacts as shown in the final EIS, the USAF must be prepared to prevent and/or fully mitigate

those impacts. Absent that, it will not be possible for me to support the selection of Madison for this bed-down.”

The Michigan delegation touted that the Air Force’s Draft Environmental Impact Study and Strategic Basing Site Survey Team found Selfridge’s personnel, modern facilities, unique training range and low cost of conversion as reasons that “make the 127th Wing an ideal choice for bedding down the F-35A.”

The base, “a former F-16 base, is the only location under consideration that could house every one of the planned F-35As in environmentally controlled hangars,” according to the letter. It also said that Michigan hosts the largest contiguous joint service range/airspace complex east of the Mississippi River for training purposes.

The delegation letter stated that Michigan has absorbed 25% of the cuts to personnel in the Air Guard during the last decade. While the 110th Wing and 127th Wing of the Michigan Air Guard have overcome challenges and changes in mission, the delegation writes, they are “now on a path to become the most advanced wings in the country.”

” A decision to bed down the F-35A at Selfridge will complete the transformation and modernization of these vital national assets, and deepen Michigan’s valuable partnership with the U.S. Air Force,” according to the delegation’s letter. “We invite you to visit Selfridge to see this commitment firsthand. We would be happy to host you in Michigan and facilitate conversations with relevant stakeholders.”


© 2019 the Detroit Free Press