Luke AFB and the F-35

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Luke Air Force Base is a finalist to train pilots for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett talks about what it will take to make Luke a home to the F-35, and what success would mean to his city and the State.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Last week we learned that Luke Air Force Base is a finalist to train pilots to fly the F-35 joint strike fighter. That's considered a win for the base, the state, and the city of Peoria, which has been a leader in efforts to protect Luke from encroaching development and other threats to its future. Peoria mayor bob Barrett was in Washington D.C. this week meeting with members of congress and attending meetings at the pentagon. He's been looking for ways to help position Luke to win the F-35. Joining me now is Peoria mayor Bob Barrett who returned today from his trip to the nation's capital. Actually just a couple of hours ago, huh?

Bob Barrett: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Bob Barrett: Thank you for the invitation.

Ted Simons: What did you ask and who did you see and what did you hear?

Bob Barrett: We asked the big question we asked is what is Luke's position? Right now, the training bases have been reduced it a group of five and where do we fall in that group and when are they going to make that selection. That was the big one.

Ted Simons: What did you hear?

Bob Barrett: We heard next month they're going to begin the environmental impact statement. And they will also do some public hearings, called scoping. And the scoping and that's when the public needs to step forward and support Luke's air base. At that point in time, hopefully, Luke will remain on the list, hopefully in first place. And the next step will be to go through and do site selections and they'll come to the bases and they'll take a look at them and decide, you have enough runway, you have enough ramp space and gunnery range and the right flying weather and everything else. If Luke makes it to the first place, when they get to the installation, I think we've got it made.

Ted Simons: The biggest competition seems to be Florida. Talk to us about what Luke has that they may not.

Bob Barrett: The air force base in Florida was selected as the first recipient of the F-35. That was a couple of years ago when they were closing the bases. They had decided they were the one. They began to put aircraft in there and a nearby community began to sue the air force. At that point, the air force started looking for other sites and accelerated finding that second air force base. That's what we're trying to get now. We're better than them and we have total support across the valley and better weather and the gunnery range, if there's one thing that sets Luke apart from almost every other air force base, it's the range.

Ted Simons: There's a chance that Eglin could get the whole kit and kaboodle?

Bob Barrett: It's on the list.

Ted Simons: Does Luke need to show something to say you need that site out here? You mentioned the gunnery range. What else does Luke need to show?

Bob Barrett: Well, Luke needs to show several things, but in terms of being selected as a training base, we're currently the largest training base in the world for the F16's. So the physical property that Luke has we've got and the air force understands this. And the question is questions of encroachment, in other words, are you allowing homes to be built too close to the runways. And we're not doing that, attorney general Terry Goddard stepped up and filed suit against the county to stop encroachment. That was a very big plus. The second question was air quality and whether or not the air force was aware of the fact that we're a non-attainment area for the EPA in terms of air quality. I have explained this is PM-10, our problem here, which is dust particles in the air. The F-35 doesn't emit dust. We'll run the studies and send them back not air force. The third is popular support and in terms of popular support, what I tried to hammer home there, you have the entire congressional delegation signed a letter of endorsement for the F-35 for Luke Air Force Base. The governor has supported it and we've created, where the average person can go sign on. The east valley partnership, all the West valley cities support Luke, the east valley partnership joined. I introduced in the Arizona league of cities and towns, a resolution supporting the military in Arizona. It was unanimously approved by all 90 mayors across the state. So you've got unanimous support.

Ted Simons: And yet, you've got a west valley city that does have concerns and is neutral as we speak on this whole deal. El Mirage and the concern seems to be for the most part noise. Is that a viable concern?

Bob Barrett: Noise is always a viable concern. I don't want to downplay it and say it's not. However, the indications we got from those in the pentagon is that with the F-35, people are going to be surprised at how little difference there is between the F-15 and the F-35. When they set the noise contours in the valley for the air force base, the F-15 was what they had at that time. The F-16 is quieter than the 15. But when they got the 16, they did not reduce the noise contours. They left them on site. So the air force doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about the noise.

Ted Simons: True, but I know that some residents on the west valley are concerned. Have you heard from Peoria residents? We've heard -- we're going to find out when the tests are done. But the F-35 could be two times as loud as the F-16. Are you hearing from Peoria residents saying "I don't know about this"?

Bob Barrett: The only ones that seemed to be complaining about this would be those in office, in El Mirage. The rest of the people seem to be content to wait until the air force releases noise studies. The Air Force taking the studies from Edwards air force base. Those studies began in 2008. The modeling will be done about the time they release the EIS, the preliminary EIS, in the spring.

Ted Simons: I know El Mirage is saying, everybody seems to like this. Let's get a F-35 to fly overhead and then we'll see how people feel. Will there be F-35s for people to take a listen to?

Bob Barrett: I would assume that eventually the air force will do that. When, I do not know.

Ted Simons: What about crash zones. Are they being expanded?

Bob Barrett: No, stays the same.

Ted Simons: So everything stays the same pretty much?

Bob Barrett: There might can a slight expansion of the noise, but they're not sure yet.

Ted Simons: How important is getting the F-35 training site at Luke? How important to the west valley, to Peoria in particular?

Bob Barrett: To the west valley, I think it's the economic survival of the west valley depends on Luke Air Force Base. You have a 2.3 million dollar recession proof economic engine out there. If you take that away, the west valley has no other major employer. West valley has nobody else that's out there that can replace that. And those who say let Luke go, they're foolish. Williams closed more than a decade ago and has not yet recovered. If you think Luke goes away, something will happen with that space, you're fooling yourself. Think of all the retirees in that area that will not have access to the PX and -- they'll move. And as for the city of Peoria, something like 50-60% of the workforce in Peoria is at Luke.

Ted Simons: What happens -- what happens to Peoria, in particular, but what happens out there if Luke doesn't get this training facility?

Bob Barrett: Well, three things could happen. Number one, they could -- right now the F-16 training squadron is going through for the Singapore Air force and the Air Force to Taiwan. When that sequence ends, personally, I think Luke will close. The other possibility, they could find an alternative mission for Luke. The UAVs, the predators. An UAV base. Personally, I don't think that will happen. If we miss on the 35, Luke will close in a decade.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Bob Barrett: Appreciate it.

Bob Barrett:Mayor of Peoria;

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