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Judge grounds U.S. Air Force urban training plans in Idaho

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 10, 2020

By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – The U.S. Air Force violated environmental laws by not adequately studying how noise from military jets coordinating exercises with plain-clothed soldiers on the ground in Idaho could harm humans and wildlife, a judge has ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled last week that the Air Force must conduct a more thorough study called an environmental impact statement before the training exercises can resume in nine urban centers.

Seven Boise residents and an environmental group filed the lawsuit last year contending the training endangers the health, safety and quality of life of residents and wildlife.

The military says air support for ground forces is increasingly required in urban combat areas.

Specifically, Dale ruled that the Air Force failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which sets procedures that agencies must follow before making decisions that could harm the environment.

Dale agreed with the plaintiffs that the Air Force hadn’t done a good job with an environmental assessment, or EA, it created to OK the flights.

“There appears to be no quantitative assessment undertaken in the EA to assess the noise impact of overhead flights upon areas that experience background noise at levels much less than the assumed average,” Dale wrote.

She also said the Air Force didn’t address sleep interference the fights might cause, adequately back up its claim that the flights wouldn’t interfere with people trying to have a conversation, or support its conclusion that birds and wildlife would not be affected by the noise.

“The residents of Boise and southern Idaho deserve better!” Anne Stites Hausrath, a former Boise City Council member who took part in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Court documents said a four-aircraft formation would produce a loudness equivalent to a vacuum cleaner.

Officials at Mountain Home Air Force Base, where the training flights originate, didn’t respond to an inquiry sent through the base website by the Associated Press.

Boise residents complained to the mayor’s office in 2015 about noise from the military flights., prompting the Air Force to stop the previously undisclosed urban training program and begin preparing the environmental assessment. The study found that the training flights would have no significant impact on humans or wildlife.

The military flights involve the use of two to four F-15E and F-15SG aircrews plus plain-clothed soldiers on the ground to simulate urban combat.

The jets would fly over Boise, Mountain Home, Burley, Twin Falls, Grand View, Bruneau, Glenns Ferry, Hammett and Mountain Home Air Force Base.

The Air Force proposed 160 training events involving 400 training operations to prepare aircrews before being deployed abroad. Of those training events, 120 would include a maximum of three hours of flight over an urban center per day. Up to 40 annual training events would include day and night training operations, according to court documents.

During the training, the jets would fly between 10,000 feet and 18,000 feet in air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

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