Sullivan, area residents criticize Air Force plan to move F-16s to Anchorage

nherz@adn.comJuly 17, 2013 

Red Flag Alaska

In this photo released by the Department of Defense Thursday, July 19, 2007, a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., refuels an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, while flying over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex during exercise Red Flag-Alaska July 16. According to the Air Force, during the multinational training exercise, pilots fly various aircraft under simulated air combat conditions. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Shawn J. Jones)

STAFF SGT. SHAWN J. JONES — AP

— Mayor Dan Sullivan on Wednesday morning joined the chorus of Anchorage voices opposed to an Air Force plan to relocate a squad of F-16 fighter jets and support workers from Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Sullivan appeared with local officials in Fairbanks to critique the plan to news media.

He focused on a section of a draft study prepared by the Air Force that says some of the relocated workers would struggle to find housing in Anchorage's tight market.

"The Air Force identifies that we're at least 150 ... units short of acceptable standard housing," he said. "I don't see a plan yet for how to address the shortage."

The move would also more than double the number of residents in Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood that are exposed to heavy noise levels from Air Force jets, according to the study, released by the military earlier this year.

Sullivan's comments dovetailed with those made at a Tuesday night hearing in Anchorage by a group of local citizens, activists, and political officials.

Residents were adamantly opposed to bringing new air traffic to the base, saying that the existing jets flying in and out of JBER are already problematic for Mountain View.

"How bad is it going to get?" asked Kandice McCallum, 57, who lives on North Bragaw Street near JBER. "I can see the planes go by at eye level."

McCallum and several others also noted the study's finding that the effects of the jets' noise would fall especially hard on some of Anchorage's "highly minority and disadvantaged" residents living in Mountain View, including children that attend a neighborhood elementary school.

Fairbanks resident Nadine Winters said that the Air Force's proposed move would ignore federal environmental justice provisions that require the military to identify and address any disproportionate impacts on poor or minority populations.

But Susan Reeves, an environmental lawyer in Anchorage who is not involved in the relocation, said the law only requires the government to give equal consideration to those types of communities -- not special treatment.

"It just simply means you have to treat them the same, because historically it's gone the other way," she said. "They don't have any special status."

Air Force officials said that if the plan goes through, there's potential for them to spend money on measures to cut down on the noise at Mountain View elementary school. But that won't be determined until after its decision on whether to give the project the go-ahead.

The military is pursuing the relocation plans as part of a cost-cutting strategy, and it says that moving the 21 planes and cutting 1,000 related jobs would save it $227 million over the next five years.

Fairbanks residents and officials have raised concerns about the impact of the move on their local economy, and questioned whether the military's numbers are accurate.

"The savings are not as clear to us as they appear to be to the Air Force staff," Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said at Wednesday's news conference. "And that's what our purpose is here this week, to push back."

The Air Force held its latest public hearing on the plan in Fairbanks on Wednesday night, and it will hold another in North Pole on Thursday.

Gov. Sean Parnell was expected to speak out against the plan in Fairbanks and North Pole, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The Air Force will accept additional comments by email and mail through Aug. 2, then revise its environmental impact study, publish it in October, and make a decision later in the year.

A complete schedule, a copy of the draft study, and an online comment form are available at www.alaskaf-16eis.com.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

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