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Pushing the F-35 odds

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Last week attendees at the Association of Idaho Cities heard a presentation about a Boise-specific project that could have impacts throughout the state: The effort to designate Gowen Field at Boise as a training mission site for the F-35 Air Force aircraft.

The state’s national guard unit at Gowen would supply manpower for the effort. While Gowen is located at Boise, Mayor David Bieter and a state Department of Commerce spokesman pointed out the economic effects of the added mission at the airfield, which would run to many millions of dollars and added employment, could ripple throughout southern Idaho.

The contest to house the F-35 mission is not over; five cities are in the running (the others are Jacksonville, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; and Montgomery, Alabama), and two will be chosen. They would replace the A-10 Warthogs, at least some of which are going away. There is some concern about what might happen if Boise misses out; Gowen employs 1,300 people and facilities associated with it employ more. There’s a lot at stake here, since the worst-case scenario might include a shutdown if no new Air Force mission is assigned. An F-35 assignment, on the other hand, might lead to significant expansions. The final decision will be made by the secretary of the Air Force in Washington.

So the Boise and state of Idaho interest in the F-35 is understandable.

The presentation to the cities officials covered these points and others, but it seemed to elide one aspect of the discussion around the proposal: The mixed reaction to it locally. The pitch at the meeting took the basic approach that support for the expansion is stronger than many people think. But that hints at the fact of significant opposition out there. And it is significant.

Some of the most visible comes from David Frazier, whose website Boise Guardian has been tracking the city’s press for the assignment – critically. Noise (the two sides hotly dispute the amount and quality of it), economic impact and other issues are factors, but Frazier’s biggest complaint may be that the city hasn’t much engaged those Boiseans who are in opposition.

Last week a Guardian article said that, “With more than 200 residents attending a Tuesday meeting, it’s fair to say opposition to the F-35 being based at Gowen Field is growing. Citizens packed the public meeting room at the Main Library to hear speakers discuss the ramifications of basing the F-35 at Gowen Field. Although invited by the sponsoring, ‘Citizens For A Livable Boise’ group, no one from the city of Boise or the Idaho Air National Guard attended.”

He and some others in opposition say that while the city and state have promoted the F-35 project to any number of associations, from cities to realtors, Boiseans irritated about it have had trouble getting the city’s ear.

This could be an issue for the advocates since – as was pointed out at the cities association – local support for the expansion is a factor the Air Force considers when making its assignments.

The point here is not to take a side on whether the F-35s should come to Boise. But it is to suggest that if advocates want to improve their odds of attracting it, a little more community outreach to the opposition might be helpful.

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