BOISE -- Boise city leaders were in Utah earlier this week on business. While there, they took a side trip to Hill Air Force Base, which is home to the F-35 fighter jets - the same jets that could potentially be based at Boise's Gowen Field.
KTVB has been covering this issue for months as it continues to garner mixed opinions and emotions, both support and opposition from locals.
We asked to speak specifically to the two Boise City Council members and Mayor Dave Bieter, who all traveled to the base, but we were told they weren't available to talk about it on Wednesday.
Boise City spokesman Mike Journee says the city officials wanted to learn how Hill's F-35 mission is going and how it's received by the community there.
Several Boise staff and leaders went to Utah to meet and discuss economic development and a "confidential" potential project here in Boise.
"Since we were going to be in town, it was just a short drive over to Hill Air Force Base," Journee told KTVB.
Mayor Bieter, Amber Pence, the Mayor's Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and two city councilwomen, Lauren McLean and Elaine Clegg, also made a stop near Ogden for about two hours to meet with officials about the F-35's stationed at their base. Three other staff members that traveled to Utah did not visit the Air Force base.
"Because it's something that could happen here, they wanted to talk with them about the community and how the community has accepted things there," Journee added. "They wanted to hear about ancillary benefits of a mission that could come as well."
It cost taxpayers about $2,460 for those who went to the economic development meeting and to the base.
Journee tells KTVB the mayor hasn't given him details about the trip, other than that community is supportive of the mission at Hill.
When asked if the mayor listened to the F-35 fighter jets while on the base, Journee said the mayor has heard F-35's before and knows what they sound like.
"There's not really that much more new information about that," he said. "The F-35 is a louder aircraft than the A-10. No one disputes that."
Boise city leaders maintain their position that they support a continuing mission at Gowen Field, which could include the F-35.
"The mayor and council want to make sure that there is a follow-on mission so those jobs remain safe, so that those folks continue to serve their country right here in Boise," Journee said. "This is a decision by the Air Force, not by the City of Boise. This is a federal government, Department of Defense, process. The City of Boise has said all along, yes, we support the idea of a continuing mission at Gowen Field. The mission before us right now being considered is the F-35's."
At this point, Gowen is still in the running with four other bases for an F-35 fighter jet mission. In early June, the Air force and Air National Guard made a visit.
"A validation team from the Air Force and National Guard Bureau came to Gowen Field to assess our infrastructure to determine how well suited we are to accommodate an F-35 mission," Idaho National Guard spokesman Maj. Chris Borders said, "They looked at our infrastructure, looked at our facilities, runways, ramp space. They looked at the training space. So it was an assessment to see roughly what it would take to get us ready to receive an F-35 mission."
Post site-visits to all five bases being considered, the military will narrow the decision down to two primary and two alternate locations. Maj. Borders believes Gowen is a heavy contender.
"We feel we have a very strong chance because of existing facilities here at Gowen Field. Those hangars and ramp space once used to accommodate the C-130 mission are now available since that mission has gone away," Borders added. "The Air Force sees that as a potential cost-savings when they're looking at re-purposing those hangars and facilities for an F-35 mission."
Plus, Borders says, they have access to 10,000 square miles of training air space here, along with electronic warfare training capability "that just can't be matched by these other states currently under consideration".
Journee tells us now government officials are confident - even if F-35's don't come to Boise - that the base will have a mission for the next several years, as the planned retirement of the A-10 has been delayed. It's been a shifting conversation, officials say.
"The A-10, at least for the foreseeable future, will be around. That's good news for Gowen Field," Journee said. "The mayor felt very good that even if F-35's don't come to Boise that sometime in the future, a mission would be coming our way."
Maj. Borders anticipates the Air Force decision will come down soon: sometime later this summer or early fall.
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