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Fighter jets at Luke would be loud in smaller zone

PHOENIX Noise from fighter jets proposed to come to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale would affect fewer residents than current F-16 operations under a recommended scenario that would bring 72 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to the base.

Luke officials said mitigation efforts from the base beyond what's already in place are not feasible, although the U.S. Air Force indicates some steps could be considered once a decision on location is made.

The conclusions were part of a final environmental-impact report released last month by the Air Force, which also included the agency's responses to comments submitted by the public this spring, according to The Arizona Republic.

Luke is in contention with three other bases, including Tucson International Airport Air Guard Station, to be selected as a pilot training base for F-35s. Luke remains the preferred site. A decision is expected mid-July.

Arizona leaders have lobbied for the F-35s to ensure Luke's economic vitality with a strong mission as the F-16s used for training have been drawn down.

The report considered what impact zero to 144 jets would have on the Glendale area. The preferred option is 72 F-35s at the base, a massive walled military compound built 71 years ago surrounded by open fields, commercial businesses and a zoo. But drive a few miles out and the largely open lands give way to housing subdivisions.

F-35s are generally louder than F-16s and more than twice as loud during landing, the report notes.

It states that loud noise from the F-35 would "adversely impact the exposed population, subsequently resulting in potentially adverse impacts on residents, property values, and environmental justice communities, including children."

The zone labeled as a high-noise area would grow by about 874 acres. With that said, a majority of that is open land and fewer people actually would be affected under the preferred scenario.

About 420 fewer residents would fall in that high-noise area, which is categorized as at least 65 decibel Day-Night Average Sound Level. That average combines the levels and durations of noise, as well as number of events on a given day. It gives higher penalty to more intrusive noise stemming from night flights.

The study also considered land-use activities most sensitive to noise, including schools and recreational-use areas.

The environment around two schools Dysart Elementary and Sun Valley Christian School is expected to include noise levels that would make it difficult for students to focus. The average noise would be louder than what students currently experience with F-16 flights.

Luke spokesman Rusty Mitchell said he doesn't expect noise complaints.

"The noise levels associated with all the options are still below the state statute lines, which the community was hearing," he said.

El Mirage resident Craig Best said he's not opposed to the jets but he is opposed to them flying late in the day.

County resident Lisa LaBarre is concerned with added noise beyond present conditions and what it could do to property values.

"People are wondering if they can stay. There is a lot of uncertainty," she said.

But El Mirage resident Cathy Henderson said she won't mind the louder noise.

"I still think it's good for the economy and great for our country," Henderson said.

Litchfield Park resident Christopher Moneypenny said he feels the noise issue has been exaggerated.

"I believe if you're American, you should support the Air Force as long as the planes don't pose a danger," Moneypenny said.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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