New maps show impact of F-35

US DOD photo - F-35 Lightning II

US DOD photo - F-35 Lightning II

Newly released maps of noise contours for a proposed F-35 program at the Boise Airport provided to BoiseDev adds new information to an ongoing debate over Boise's bid for the flight program. 

Where we are: The State of Idaho, City of Boise and business leaders have banded together to make the case to the US Department of Defense that Gowen Field is the best spot among five candidates to house F-35 jets. Two sites will get picked, and Boise is the only site outside the eastern swath of the country. 

2012 EIS map. Blue is current "not suitable for residential use" area, red was 2012 projection based upon 72 jets. 

2012 EIS map. Blue is current "not suitable for residential use" area, red was 2012 projection based upon 72 jets. 

A group of residents in and around the Boise Airport is nervous - and are becoming increasingly vocal. The concerns rest, in part, on a 2012 Environmental Impact Study for the Boise Airport that shows a significantly larger area that is designated for "not suitable for residential use" - essentially an area where the average noise over 24 hours is above 65 decibels (about the level of average human speech). That's an average - with large spikes when jets take off. The map shows a massive swath of land that includes schools, parks and hundreds of homes. 

First on BoiseDev.com: Updated 2016 sound contour map - projection for 2020 with the F-35 program at GTowen. The blue lined-area represents the "not suitable for residential use" area.

First on BoiseDev.com: Updated 2016 sound contour map - projection for 2020 with the F-35 program at GTowen. The blue lined-area represents the "not suitable for residential use" area.

The new map: An updated map actually changes the calculation significantly. The 2012 map was based on the idea of 72 of the jets being based at Gowen Field. Instead, the DOD proposes 18-24 jets as part of the project.

According to Matt Borud, Marketing and Innovation Officer for the Idaho Department of Commerce, the contour is smaller based on several factors:

  • Fewer jets meaning fewer missions ("sorties") 
  • Guidance from the US Air Force to not require afterburners upon takeoff/landing - though the use of these devices is upon pilot discretion
  • Flight procedures to mitigate noise (I.e. flight path direction - banking away from town)  
  • Sorties would generally be limited to two-four takeoffs and landings during weekday daylight hours

The updated map shows a contour that would cover far fewer homes.  

Why this matters: Residents are concerned, rightfully so, about the impact of noise. The prior EIS shows a big chunk of Boise under a loud virtual cloud of jet noise. If the USAF's guarantees related to noise abatement and number of jets/missions are followed, the sound will be less of an issue than the 2012 estimate. But after a contentious meeting in which leaders hoped to focus on Boise Airport expansion unrelated to the F-35 boiled over into media coverage,  optics for the project will be challenged. 

Caveat against: Folks opposed to the jet, like Boise Guardian editor Dave Frazier, are dubious on the noise mitigation promises. He's challenged leaders to haul an F-35 to Gowen and let her rip with the afterburner on. That would be a spectacle that would, of course, doom any public support.  The Gowen Strong team contends afterburners won't be used near the airport. 

Caveat for: That same team has hired a public relations firm, and is working to impress on the public the economic benefit. Material provided to BoiseDev says 2,800 jobs are at stake - either directly or secondarily. Gowen is said to contribute $155 million in terms of impact on Idaho's GDP. 

Mountain Home? The Gowen supporting folks have two things to say about the (seemingly logical) idea to base the jets at nearby MHAFB (:45 away):

  1. The travel distance would hurt recruitment. Harder to convince employees to sign on for a 90-minute roundtrip commute.  
  2. DOD is looking at this as a Guard mission, meaning MHAFB isn't in the running. 
Comparing the contours. Green, 2004 boundrary with 13 homes impacted. Yellow, 2015 boundary with 89 homes. Blue dashed, F-35 mission projection with 270 homes. Black, 1994 boundary with 1,003 homes (based on 2016 occupancy)

Comparing the contours. Green, 2004 boundrary with 13 homes impacted. Yellow, 2015 boundary with 89 homes. Blue dashed, F-35 mission projection with 270 homes. Black, 1994 boundary with 1,003 homes (based on 2016 occupancy)

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated residents were not allowed to speak at a 2016 public meeting. Residents were allowed to voice concern, with airport officials saying the F-35 noise concern is unrelated to the airport's master plan. 

By Don Day

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