What Are The Pros And Cons Of Bringing The F-35 To Boise?

Nov 9, 2017

Marilyn Frazier pours freshly steeped tea at her kitchen table. Amid the cookies and bright tangerines she’s laid out, the retiree has a notebook full of concerns about a new military plane that could soon be based in Boise.

“So how much it cost, how destructive they are, how polluting they are, noise levels," Marilyn Frazier says. "It just didn’t seem like the right airplane to have in a city.”

Frazier lives in the Vista Neighborhood and is used to hearing commercial planes from the nearby Boise Airport that fly overhead. But when she learned the city wants to see more than a dozen F-35 fighter jets based here, she was puzzled.

"It just didn't seem like the right airplane to have in a city." - Marilyn Frazier

She and her daughter Melissa went to a community meeting hosted by a group called Citizens for a Livable Boise. Since then, Melissa says she’s been talking to friends and neighbors about the jets.

“I’ve been using social media a little bit to spread whatever things I can find about it. And I’ve also been trying to learn as much as I can about it and it’s difficult because I don’t think that there is a lot of information out there.”

The future of the A-10, which is currently based at Boise’s Gowen Field, is murky. Air Force officials say they want to extend the jet's shelf life for the next five fiscal years, but it's unclear if Congress will sign off on new funding.

The F-35 – the latest stealth fighter from the Air Force – has been touted as the A-10's replacement. Current estimates show the technologically advanced jets will cost more than $400 billion for the entire fleet around the world.

“We have an expertise in that close air support role," says Idaho Air National Guard spokesperson Christopher Borders. "So it makes sense to the Air Force to field that aircraft to a unit that can ensure that that mission of close air support is still able to be carried out in the new aircraft.”

If the city is chosen, the Guard will be in charge of the 18 jets. The military estimates that an F-35 mission is worth $155 million annually to Idaho’s economy.

Borders grew up just a few miles from the end of the runway when the F4 Phantom flew missions at Gowen Field in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so he gets why people are worried, but there are workarounds.

Marilyn Frazier holds a pin from Citizens for A Livable Boise. She's attended meetings the group has hosted, and has called city and state officials to voice her opposition.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

“Because the Idaho Air National Guard flew those noise abatement procedures back then, it was a minimal impact. Just like it would be if we’re selected for an F-35 mission.”

He says just like with the A-10s now, the new jets would be flown during the day in specific windows of time – with only 10 total minutes of audible noise each day.

Borders admits the F-35 is louder than the A-10. But he can’t answer many questions since the Air Force won’t consider environmental risks unless Boise is selected as one of two primary sites.

Even though it might be a while, Captain Mark Graff with the Air Force says the public is welcome to weigh in during the environmental review.

"These basing decisions are strategic . . . And ultimately have to make a decision that's in the best interest of the Air Force and of the Department of Defense." - Air Force spokesperson Mark Graff

“These basing decisions are strategic," Graff says. "They take into account a number of factors to include being a good community partner. And ultimately have to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the Air Force and [of the] Department of Defense.”

Citizens for a Livable Boise is skeptical that officials will take concerns about noise levels and air pollution seriously, and what those factors could mean for home values. They point to another city which was already selected for a F-35 mission — Burlington, Vermont — where citizens mounted a legal challenge that was rejected by a federal judge in August 2016. The case is awaiting a decision on appeal.

But city spokesperson Mike Journee says the concerns about the F-35 are overblown.

“If at some point through that very public process there is any indication that verifies some of the claims that are happening there, I think that’s something the mayor and council would take very seriously.”

Despite the opposition from Citizens for a Livable Boise, Journee says the city has heard from many people who support the F-35.

It won’t be long until the city learns whether Gowen Field makes the cut: The Air Force plans to make a decision about whether the F-35 will be based in Boise by the end of the fall. If the city is chosen, it will still be several years before one of these jets flies overhead.

Correction: This story originally stated a citizen-backed lawsuit in Burlington, Vermont against a local F-35 mission had failed. That federal court decision is currently being appealed. It also said the military was phasing out the A-10 mission. The jet's future is uncertain and will depend on future Congressional funding. These changes have been reflected in the article.

This story is our latest installment in our “Wanna Know Idaho” series and came from Marilyn and Melissa Frazier who wanted to know what the pros and cons are of bringing the F-35 fighter jets to Boise. Have a question you've been curious about? Submit your question below!

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Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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