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Air Force base decision raises F-35A noise debate in Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Voices are being raised in Tucson about the possibility of a squadron of new F-35A fighters being stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where the multirole aircraft would replace relatively quiet A-10 attack jets.

The southern Arizona base is a dark horse in the Pentagon's consideration of where to locate an Air Force Reserve squadron of 24 F35As because the Air Force already said in 2017 that it favored Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas.

However, Davis-Monthan, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Homestead Air Force in Florida officially remain in the running and are deemed "reasonable alternatives," a least until Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett, a longtime Arizona resident, makes the final decision.

The Air Force and other armed services have historically stuck with their preferred sites in final basing decisions, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The Air Force held a public hearing in Tucson on March 10 when officials heard some speakers voice support for assigning F-35As to Davis-Monthan while others complained about thunderous noise produced by the single-engine jet.

"(Even) if you're not living under the flight path of the F-35, they are so loud it will affect you. No matter where you live in Tucson, you'll hear them," said resident Lee Stanfield, KOLD-TV reported.

Hamid Kamalpour, a program manager for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, said the Fort Worth base "is preferred, but that doesn't mean there is no chance that Davis-Monthan won't be chosen. He added that an environmental study will help guide future basing decisions.

A public comment period on the study ends March 31, and the Air Force then has 90 days to issue a final environmental impact statement. Barrett will then issue a record of decision on the F-35 basing, Kamalpour said.

The Air Force wants to have the 24-aircraft Reserve squadron in place by 2024.

Kamalpour said the final decision could include a mitigation plan for the chosen base, including things like restricted flight hours.

However, the Air Force studied noise-mitigation measures at each of the four sites, and none of the measures were determined to be "operationally feasible."

Also, the Air Force lacks funding for mitigation such as home soundproofing, Kamalpour said.

The draft environmental impact study said that under one scenario, an estimated 1,506 people living near Davis-Monthan would experience increased average noise levels above a threshold the Air Force has said can make an area potentially incompatible for residential use.

And schools, parks and part of the University of Arizona campus would be subject to potentially disruptive noise levels.

The report also cited significant noise impacts at Whiteman and the Fort Worth installation and "adverse but not significant impacts" at Homestead.

Several members of a Tucson group opposed to basing F-35As at Davis-Monthan said the noise from the base's current aircraft already is unbearable at times.

"I'm worried about my house becoming incompatible with residential living and me have to disclose that," said resident Manon Getsi, KUAT reported.

Glenn Bancroft, a Tucson businessman and Air Force veteran, said he manages hundreds of residential properties and hasn't heard a single complaint about air traffic from Davis-Monthan or an Air National Guard base at Tucson International Airport.

Bancroft noted that thousands of military veterans have settled in Tucson because of Davis-Monthan and community support for the military.

"I think you ought to elevate D-M to the number one position (to host F-35s)," he said.

Several government officials voiced support for basing F-35s at Davis-Monthan.

Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy said Davis-Monthan is too big an economic driver in the community to risk not having the Air Force want to keep it open.

"We should be open-armed and very receptive to the fact that they are willing to consider us, and we should do everything we can to encourage them," he said.

The Air Force has changed landing patterns and reduced night flights to reduce the impact on the community, said Ramon Valdez, another county supervisor.

Resident Matthew Yates said F-35A noise could interrupt learning in schools.

"By bringing the F-35 to D-M, the Air Force will knowingly and intentionally impair the learning of Tucson students, handicapping them for the rest of their lives," Yates said.

Associated Press

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