Opinion Columns & Blogs

Boise may be booming, but it does not need the sonic boom from F-35 supersonic jets

The draft environmental impact statement that the Air Force released last month was quite revealing about the impact of the campaign to bring supersonic F-35 jets to Boise’s Gowen Field. It raises the question for state and local officials as to what we value most here in Boise: 18 supersonic jets that will have a minimal effect on job opportunities and economic development or citizens of our neighborhoods who can live free of what the Air Force labels a “significant” noise impact.

Let’s be clear about what “significant” noise impact is when it’s coming from a supersonic jet that breaks the sound barrier and creates sonic booms. This is not your father’s Oldsmobile!

In New Jersey a few years ago, there were reports of the ground shaking in south New Jersey that was mistakenly attributed to an earthquake. Eventually, the U.S. Navy claimed responsibility for the sonic booms caused by its supersonic aircraft, similar to the F-35s.

Although the Air Force passed on Boise this time and chose sites in Wisconsin and Alabama for the F-35s, it still lists Boise’s Gowen Field as a backup candidate. And Boise Mayor Dave Bieter is still committed to bringing the F-35s to Boise at some future date. Last month’s listening session the Air Force held for Boise residents regarding the F-35s sends a message that it’s still serious about considering Boise in the future.

The Air Force got an earful of opposition that evening, best summed up by one resident who declared that “Boise is no place for urban war!” It’s difficult for those who have control of the skies and the jets that fly overhead to predict exactly how a community will be affected by noise. The reassurances that well-intentioned officials and experts give to communities that life on the ground will not be affected dramatically are too often proved wrong when planes take to the air on a daily basis and pilots sometimes deviate from flight plans that may change from those laid out by official promises years before.

Whatever the prediction of noise impact in an environmental impact statement, it always seemed worse for folks out walking the dog, barbecuing in the backyard, teachers trying to keep students’ attention, parents trying to put babies asleep and every other aspect of daily life in a community.

In the case of the F-35s, the Air Force’s analysis is not good news for Boiseans. For starters, there are currently more than 6,000 operations per year of the quieter A-10 fighter jets that currently fly out of Gowen, but the newer supersonic F-35s would increase operations to more than 7,000 operations per year. The missions of the F-35s will be 90 minutes long with take-offs and landings, and some of that mission time will be at supersonic speeds and noise.

The Idaho Statesman has already reported on the environmental impact statement analysis. In all, 272 households in an immediate area of 446 acres around Boise would be subjected to noise as loud as a vacuum cleaner 3 feet away. No telling what the tolerance for noise will be beyond the immediate area examined. To make matters worse for a city with rising property values and a shortage of affordable housing, many of the homes directly affected by noise are in that “affordable” category.

Whidbey Island, northwest of Seattle, can teach Boiseans a thing or two about property values and aircraft noise. The Naval air station there is a constant source of controversy over the noise level of its jets.

Property values are one of the main concerns of its residents. In fact, a map of the communities on Whidbey divides the island into zones that reflect the likelihood of noise from Naval air station jets upsetting daily life in the homes of the communities. If your home lies in one of the zones on the north end of the island, your property values will be less than if you are in a southern zone saved from most of the jet noise.

When you buy or sell a home, there is a document the buyer must review that details the zone the house is in, then the buyer must sign to knowing and understanding the noise risks assumed by the purchase. That would sure slow down a buyer or, at the very least, bring in a lower offering price.

How would all this play out in Boise with the new supersonic F-35s? Can anyone really reassure us that noise will not affect property values down the road when these F-35s are flying over the region, not to mention quality of life in general? These supersonic jets are in a different class than the current A-10 jets when it comes to noise and the sonic boom in particular.

An analysis of an Air Force environmental impact statement by an anti-F35 group in Vermont called Save Our Skies concluded that the F35 could be as much as four times louder as another fighter jet, the F16.

Now that we have an environmental impact statement in Boise that raises serious concerns about how supersonic jets will affect the quality of life in Boise, this campaign season is the perfect opportunity for citizens to register their opposition to the F-35s.

It’s time to send a message to state and local officials and vote for the mayoral candidate in November who says “NO, NOT HERE” and who will protect Boise’s neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and homes from intolerable noise that citizens of Boise will come to regret.

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a member of the Statesman editorial board.
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