The City and the War Machine: Crosshairs on People and Public Lands

F-35 Photo: MSgt. John Nimmo, Sr.

F-35 Photo: MSgt. John Nimmo, Sr.

In the 1990s, a battle raged over military use of the Owyhee Canyonlands of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. The aggressor was the state of Idaho under Gov. Cecil Andrus, fronting for the Air Force.  Cece, who had been Interior Secretary under Jimmy Carter, was hell bent on a new Bombing Range amid some of the most remote country in the lower 48 states. Dickshooter Ridge and the YP Desert west of Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Reservation were targeted. The wild East Fork Owyhee River flowed between the sites, with a National Archaeological District just to the north. “Training” ranges were to be surrounded by millions of acres of low-level supersonic military airspace.

Andrus pressed a reluctant BLM for a land deal to block up state lands so the state could profit from military use, and pork could keep flowing to Mountain Home. Fierce local resistance coalesced. The importance of the Owyhee region’s beauty and biodiversity (bighorn sheep herds, sage-grouse, antelope and other wildlife) was gaining national recognition. The state and Air Force forgot (or didn’t care) that people actually lived at Duck Valley, which was being terrorized by overflights and sonic booms.  Reporting by Niels Nokkentved was crucial in making this audacious Land Grab front page news. He later wrote Desert Wings, Controversy in the Idaho Desert, a retrospective look at the drama, litigation, the Air Force ultimately peeling off opposition, and the new Range that was built to the east on Jarbidge BLM lands in a somewhat less sensitive area.

As the Andrus proposal was shot down, another was hatched. In a few years, Congress passed legislation withdrawing BLM lands at Juniper Butte and scattered sites. Rancher Bert Brackett (now prominent in the Legislature) famously made out like a bandit. Taxpayers bought out Brackett’s BLM grazing AUMs (cow use) on the withdrawn lands. Then the Air Force turned right around and let Brackett graze the same site. A complex of new scattered electronic threat emitter and No Drop sites was imposed amid BLM lands. Dahr Jamail describes a current emitter threat to Forest Service land in Washington. The big prize was an immense tri-state supersonic airspace, with over flights allowed down to 100 ft. above ground level in Idaho, and use of chaff and flares in War Games.

Incremental Footprint Expansion

The military is never satisfied when it comes to gobbling up airspace or land in the West. Rubberstamp NEPA reviews have expanded military airspace in Oregon and Nevada, including over the Jarbidge wilderness designated in 1964 with Wilderness Act passage. Its vivid blue sky now may be marred by leaden contrails. The expansion largely coincided with the beddown of a Singapore squadron at the Mountain Home Air Force base. The quid pro quo deal involved Singapore larding the base with foreign dollars and purchasing new US War Planes, at the expense of further sacrificing wildlife and public lands for their “training”. The US got its own national “mercenary” force of sorts.

A 2016 NEPA analysis has ushered in “Convoy Training” on Highway 51 south of Bruneau, with various roadside activities, GPS scrambling, opaquely increased activity at emitter sites, shooting all manner of devices on Ranges, and expanded use of white phosphorus. Coincidentally, an oddly situated BLM land exchange being pursued by ID Governor Butch Otter would give the state control of a large block of land by the Convoy Training route.

Politicians and Lobbyists Embrace the F-35 Racket, and Weaponize the Airport

Boise City Mayor Dave Bieter and council members, airport Manager Rebecca Hupp, the Chamber of Commerce, Idaho Power, the Congressional delegation and others are feverishly seeking the beddown of a squadron of noxiously loud and polluting F-35 War Planes at Gowen Field. This is the Idaho National Guard site connected to the city-run airport. The Air Force is running a competition to determine which two of five competing Guard Units across the country gets the Noise Monster prize – Jacksonville FL, Montgomery AL, Selfridge MI, Dane County WI or Boise ID.  In Idaho, F-35s would train across the Owyhee Canyonlands. The city profits from Guard use of the airport runways and fuel sales, including Guard and “transient” military planes.

There’s just one hitch. F-35s would drive increasingly informed, outraged and organized residents from their homes. F -35s are 8 to 16 times louder than A-10s (current plane in use at Gowen), and 4 times louder at takeoff and landing than F-16s, which are also much too loud for an urban airport. Noise levels will make a large area unlivable, or unhealthy to inhabit. The planes would be within three miles of the city’s heart, and their noise footprint would far exceed what has been modeled.

Like many folks in town, I had been complacent, and largely oblivious to the possible gutting of Boise neighborhoods by the F-35. I had not known that concerned residents in the Vista neighborhood and other areas within an ever-expanding military noise footprint have been brushed aside, misled, and treated like dirt by local politicians and the airport for years. The people have compiled scientific information on the vulnerability of children to hearing loss, deep flaws in economic models, and much else. All has been ignored.  They have lived with this threat for years, and have kept going.

In March, investigative reporting by Dave Frazier at the Boise Guardian Blog alerted the public to an impending council vote to allocate $100,000 to pay a DC lobby shop to hook the F-35s. This stunk so badly that a vote was never held. Then the Guardian, long a thorn in the side of sanctimonious city overlords, submitted a Records Act Request. The trove of documents show city officials conspiring with Guard Brass, Idaho Governor Butch Otter’s office (the State got its own $100,000 lobby dollars from the Legislature), Idaho Power, the Chamber of Commerce, and some in the Air Force to land the F-35 “prize” for Boise. There have been junkets to DC, including the whole gang with Idaho Power and the Chamber, and unending local schmoozing across the Treasure Valley.

The grotesque scheming includes spying on social media to sweep up citizen comments about the F-35, using “Brandwatch”. Special people get password access to this intel, so talking points and propaganda can be prepared to counter opposition to the F-35s.  The Guardian reports:

In one document the Idaho Dept. of Commerce reveals it has nationwide access (intelligence source?) to a service called BRANDWATCH. They provided a password and instructions to the Group so members could get news reports and social media trends regarding the F-35. Boise’s attorney denied the GUARDIAN access to that info by redacting it from the e-mails. Just another weapon in the official arsenal not available to the enemy.

All of this is made worse by the fact that the city drapes itself in progressive green trappings, ballyhooing Livability.  Lock-step actions with the military and lobbyists expose a hollow mercenary and merciless city leader soul.

Council head Mclean spoke at the April 2017 Climate Rally – talking of caring, neighborhoods and climate action.  Not a mention of the neighborhood gutting polluting F-35 fuel hogs. If this F-35 lust is satisfied, it will result in condemnation of homes in the areas of most extreme noise. In other places not quite as loud, homes with children exposed to noise will suffer stress and hearing loss, with property values tanking.  I don’t use the word lust lightly here. Their glossy F-35 images, powerpoints and brochures can only be described as War Plane Porn.

Boise urban renewal destroyed large areas of the historic downtown in past decades. The land then sat as littered vacant lots. Recently, developers have erected blocky office buildings and hotels at a feverish pace.

What will happen to neighborhoods that suffer F-35 noise razing 10 years from now, when the Gowen “mission” changes to drones or other devices, and the roaring F-35s (those that haven’t spontaneously ignited on runways) are moth-balled or recycled for bomb parts?

Are we seeing Airport noise being used as a weapon, and turned on people to drive blight (a pre-requisite for renewal and condemnation) or home flight  – with high rollers in the know scooping up de-valued homes for a song?

To top it all off, the Guard Web Page reads like a War Game tourism brochure. It extols fuel stops in Boise, and offers up the Owyhee sage lands as a military playground for outsider “transient” War Planes from across the US and foreign countries. Pilots gas up on that fine airport fuel, and nod off for a night in a hotel. Then the real fun begins. After an ear-splitting take-off jarring the classrooms at Owyhee Elementary school, off to a training frolic in the homes of sensitive animals and wilderness.  What’s not to love about an F-15 or F-35 at 300 feet above ground level?

” …Fine-tune your low altitude tactical skills on one of our many low levels or in our MOA’s, which are approved down to 300AGL, while being escorted by A-10’s or other fast movers. Conclude the sortie with a drop(s) on Saylor Creek experiencing a full spectrum of electronic threats and smoky SAMS while employing chaff/flares …” They left out fun with white phosphorus.

Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp, who is married to a Guard person has announced pursuit of a new airport fuel pipeline with a secret investor.

Hupp is part of Gowen Strong a private non-profit using City staff likely in violation of the public purpose doctrine. Scarcely a day goes by without a new revelation of rot associated with the city and the F-35s.

Psy-ops are in full swing. The Guard installed a new PA system at Gowen Field, broadcasting patriotic music three times a day. It is so loud that it penetrates portions of the Vista Neighborhood. I listened to a recording a resident made on a cell phone in his backyard. War planes are increasingly growling over Boise’s North End and other neighborhoods, conditioning the populace to noise and plane presence.


Military expansion moves loom over wild public lands elsewhere in the West – including an immense proposed Navy Fallon Land Grab in Nevada, and the controversial Emitter Range on Forest Service land in Washington, where the Navy was exposed sneaking around secretly using emitters, just like the Air Force used to do in the old days in Owyhee County.

Beddown is nearing in on another community fighting the F-35.

Burlington, Vermont had the misfortune of being chosen for an early basing of the war plane, against the will of its people. They are to arrive soon, and the noise hell and Home Grabs will commence.

#LivableBoise #NoNoiseBoiseF35 #GowenWrong.

An EIS for F-35 basing is to hit the streets this summer, but everyone knows the real action is behind the scenes.

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Katie Fite is a biologist and Public Lands Director with WildLands Defense.

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