By LAUREN SAGE REINLIE / Daily News
VALPARAISO — Mayor Bruce Arnold is sounding the warning bell about a plan that would allow more F-35 jets to fly over his city.
Late last month, Arnold, who is concerned about the effects of noise from the jets, sent a letter to residents and property owners. He asked them to attend the Air Force’s meeting Tuesday night to suggest an alternative that he says would have less impacts on the city.
“I can’t impress upon you the importance of your participation in this scheduled hearing,” Arnold said in the letter. “It’s your city and your property values and your way of life that will suffer if the Air Force accepts the proposed (plan).”
The plan was released as part of a report analyzing the environmental impacts of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program at Eglin.
Read the executive summary of the environmental impact statement
Read the full report
The F-35 training program is ground zero for training pilots and maintainers from all branches of military service and from partner nations to operate the newest fighter jet.
Flying operations began in 2012, but with some restrictions, including limits to flights on the runway that sends traffic over Valparaiso.
The final draft of the environmental impact statement provides six alternatives to allow for ramping up flights at Eglin as more students go through the program. The Air Force’s recommended plan — the only one that does not require additional construction — is to lift the restrictions on the Valparaiso runway.
That could mean an additional 180 homes in Valparaiso could be exposed to sound levels higher than 75 decibels, according to the report.
Arnold says that would make 20 percent of his city unsuitable for living, unless residents undergo costly improvements to soundproof their homes.
He also says it would reduce property values on the homes. He is concerned that it could eventually destroy the city, forcing residents out and bankrupting the city’s coffers.
In Arnold’s letter, he asked residents and property owners to suggest the Air Force adopt one of two alternative plans: construction of a new runway and control tower on Eglin with a taxiway over State Road 85, or building a new runway and control tower at nearby Duke Field.
Residents and property owners in Valparaiso have expressed concerns for years about the impacts noise from the jets would have on their community.
Mike Spaits, environmental spokesman for Eglin, said the number of homes that could be potentially affected by noise from the F-35 is about 500 more than when F-15 fighter jets were stationed at Eglin.
Considering the breadth of the F-35 program, that’s a relatively small number, he said.
He emphasized that while the Air Force has recommended the plan for lifting the restrictions on the existing runway, it has not yet been submitted for final approval.
All comments will be logged and included with the report when it goes to Air Force leaders for review.
“I hope we have a large crowd that comments,” Arnold said. “I’m certainly going to.”
Comments can be given in person at the meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church at 444 Valparaiso Parkway.
They can also be submitted through July 29 to Mike Spaits, Eglin Air Force Base Public Affairs Office, 101 West D Ave., Suite 235, Eglin Air Force Base, FL 32542, by phone at 882-2836 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The report is available on this page in electronic form. Hard copies are available for review in local libraries.
If you go:
The Air Force will accept public comments on the F-35 plan at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the First Baptist Church at 444 Valparaiso Parkway.