Along Florida's panhandle, just a short drive from the Gulf of Mexico, sits the small city of Valparaiso. Its residents, most of whom have served in some capacity, first elected Bruce Arnold mayor almost exactly 50 years ago. He's been paid a dollar a year to hold the job ever since, but never imagined engaging the U.S. Air Force's newest -- possibly trillion dollar -- fighter jet project.
"That's what we thrive on here, the basic industry in the Valparaiso, Niceville area is Eglin Air Force Base," Arnold said. "Everybody was elated until we got the EIS."
That's because the EIS -- or Environmental Impact Statement -- drafted by the Air Force indicates the F-35 is significantly louder than its predecessor, the F-16. County level government backed the planes. Arnold and the city filed suit twice requesting more information and a more open dialogue with the Air Force. They don't want the jets to leave, but they want the Air Force to take whatever steps they can to mitigate the noise.
"Basically our stand was that the Air Force conduct most of their flight training at field 3 which is about 10 miles north of us, sort of out in the boondocks," Arnold said.
"To me, it's the sound of freedom," said Fred Corrender, a Valparaiso resident. Corrender served in the Air Force for more than 30 years. He's retired and lives under the flight path in one of the city's noisiest areas. "After, you know so long, you get acclimated to it and it don't really bother you that much," he said. "The F-35 is a little noisier than the F-16, but like I said, still don't bother me, we just carry on with our daily lives."
Corrender's neighbors called the jet annoying, and one complained of falling property value.
Mayor Arnold said two-thirds of the city's housing doesn't meet federal noise standards and that the military could still add planes and flights. "So therefore we haven't experienced the noise... The full effect by any stretch of the imagination," he said.
However, he said his -- and the city's position -- is in a holding pattern at the moment while they wait for a revised report on the plane due out in January.
Air Force officials said most of the complaints they've received regarding noise from the F-35 have come from a handful of people. They also contend that three quarters of the leveled complaints come during hours when the plane isn't in use. The Air Force had expected to make a decision whether to base the F-35 in Burlington by the end of this month.
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