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El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook is flanked by El Mirage Councilmember Lynn Selby and City Manager Bill Rupo

El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook is flanked by El Mirage Councilmember Lynn Selby and City Manager Bill Rupo at the first public hearing on the F-35A.

The Wigwam Resort is a big place, and it was just right for the first of four open houses being held in Arizona by the U.S. Air Force for comments on its environmental impact study of the F-35A training basing at Luke Air Force Base.

Luke is the USAF’s preferred alternative to base the pilot training center with 72 F-35A aircraft. However, as stated throughout the open house, no decisions regarding the proposal will be made until after the environmental impact analysis process is complete. There are other military installations under consideration for the training basing: Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico; Tucson International Airport Air Guard Station; and Boise Air Terminal Airport Air Guard Station.

Most residents and speakers at the Feb. 13 open house were in favor of bringing the F-35A to Luke, and when they made their public comments at the microphone, they were applauded.

But, there were two or three residents who were not so sure they wanted to see the F-35A approved for basing at Luke.

Lise A. LeBarre, who said she bought her five-acre property in December 1979, complained about rules being changed mid-course after initially allowing her and others to divide their properties into one-acre parcels. All of this, she said, without compensation. She said defense contractors in the state would be getting from an out-of-state base what they are getting from Luke and conduct business without pollution and decreases in property values.

Scott Roberts, the owner/manager of Pueblo Mirage, an active adult community in El Mirage, said the noise contour alternatives with the highest decibel levels of 65 or more (labeled 2,3,4,5 and 6 on a map provided by Air Force officials) puts the community inside the highest decibel level.

Senator Nelson and Charley Freericks

State Sen. John Nelson (R-Dist. 12) speaks with Fighter Country Partnership Board of Directors Chairman Charley Freericks prior to the first public hearing on the F-35A.

“The F-35 will make an impact on all residents north of the base,” Roberts said.
Billy Woods, who has lived at the end of the crash zone south of the I-10 freeway 24 years, said he did not come to the open house for “happy talk. I’ve gotten no information at all.” He said the Air Force “forgot about gravity.”

Woods said he was not opposed to Luke, but was opposed to some of its flight paths. He said he has been keeping track of decibel levels for 20 years. But, he voiced more concern about “what’s coming out of the tailpipes.”

Mixed in with residents’ comments were those from elected and appointed officials, from Mayor Elaine Scruggs to Gov. Jan Brewer’s Policy Advisor for Military Affairs Ryan Owens. State Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Dist. 12) joined Congressman Trent Franks and state agency heads in praising various assets unique to Luke, including the Barry M. Goldwater Range and Auxiliary 1 Field northwest of the base. All West Valley mayors, although just three spoke at Monday’s open house, have repeatedly expressed their support of the F-35A at Luke.

Col. Ron Gregory

Col. Ron Gregory presided over the F-35A hearings. He is a judge on the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.

Before the open house, El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook said, “El Mirage is 110 percent in support of Luke Air Force Base and the F-35A mission. We look forward to the arrival of those jets, their pilots, families, and crews.”

Scruggs’ comments at the podium outlined the nine separate state statutes that protect Luke’s mission. She also said Glendale’s annexation of Luke and surrounding acreage, and the $3.9 million the City of Goodyear spent to buy land and prevent encroachment south of Luke were two specific actions that have shown the West Valley commitment to the base’s mission.

There were poetic moments, and there were moments of good-natured laughter mixed with somber cautions. One of the open mic comments came from retired Lt. Col. Paul Smiley, who served 25 years in the Air Force. He flew combat missions in Desert Storm.

Smiley said, “You won’t find a better proving ground than Barry M. Goldwater Range.”
He said in Desert Storm, there were no F-16s lost.
“From an economic standpoint, this boils down to risk,” Smiley said. “Losing is not an option. When I hear an F-16 overhead, I throw another steak on the grill.”

The reason? He said because he knows then there’s another day of freedom.

Three other open houses were held Feb. 14, 15 and 16. Public comments were due by March 14.

This post was updated on 5 February 2020.

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