By Ellen Magee

In September 2019, we first heard about F-35 military jets coming to the Air National Guard at the Dane County Airport, a half mile from our Northside home.  There had been a gathering, sponsored by the Air National Guard at The Alliant Energy Center, which we heard about after the fact, where the new jets were introduced as well as the recently completed draft of the environmental impact statement.  It was reported that the audience of this presentation was made up of people not directly affected and outside of our neighborhood.  The National Guard noted in the draft environmental impact statement that those most directly affected would be children, low income and people of color.  An actual map was drawn encircling the airport and the inner circle would “not be consistent with residential use”; in other words, the “sacrifice zone”.

Subsequent North-east-side meetings and speak-outs, sponsored by local activists and elected officials from the area have been well-attended.  At the first of these I attended, we heard from a city council member from Burlington, VT as to the process they used to fight the F-35’s scheduled to come to their Air National Guard.  They have been organizing and fighting for almost a decade, including a lawsuit.  We heard that:

  • The National Guard Bureau took seriously the citizen’s objections,
  • The VT congressional delegation, (including Bernie Sanders), demanded the F-35’s come, so they are now coming starting the last week in October,
  • Neighborhoods were nearly destroyed by the government buy-outs, and the bulldozing of homes in the “sacrifice zone”,
  • Burlington citizens continue to fight to get rid of the F-35’s,
  • Different town units are dealing with dramatic reductions of property tax revenues from the sacrifice zone,
  • Uncertainty about how the increased flights and greater noise levels will affect the families who refused to sell to the government and what, if anything, their homes will now be worth, and finally,
  • Sound remediation previously offered for homes nearby has not, and will not be forthcoming.

We and many of our neighbors have been vocal in writing to express our feelings to local and state elected officials since realizing how close we are to the sacrifice zone.  We are seeing how much power the “military-industrial complex wields.  One of our darlings in WI’s congressional delegation, turns out to be beholden to Lockheed Martin.  WI’s national elected officials are willing to sacrifice a couple of Madison’s most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods to keep federal dollars flowing into the state. 

The sacrifice zone near Ellen’s home

My husband and I have very few assets other than our home.  We are just outside the area deemed “inconsistent with residential use” in the environmental impact statement.  This means we will not be bought out by the government.  We don’t know if we can live with the increased noise levels and flights.  We could move, but wonder how much our home would sell for under the circumstances. 

We are equally concerned about our neighbors in the trailer park at the end of the street and in the many subsidized apartments in the sacrifice zone, who are unlikely to find subsidized units to move to (due to years-long wait lists).  Many will likely become homeless.  Several schools will close.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to maintain our older home, painting the exterior, (a happy blue).  As I am processing this uncertain situation, and prepare for a possible move, I wrote this farewell letter:

Dear Home,

Thank you for the comfort and security you have provided to Guy and me since 1999.  Your bones, including a dry basement, have brought security and joy to us.  You are spacious enough for each of us to have our own spaces as well as plenty of comfortable common space.  We love our wood-burning fireplace. The lovely wooded lot, including a big fenced backyard, has been enjoyed by our pets:  Sibby, Misty, Snowball and Groucho. 

Our neighbors for the most part, have been peaceful and Dennis has greatly helped us with winter snow removal and summer mowing.  The neighborhood has offered serenity to Guy as he sunbathed in the front yard and to me and my women friends gathered for fire ceremony in the privacy of the backyard.  Children have enjoyed the play structure and birds and squirrels love our yard for its mature trees, brush pile and weeds.

Our future with you is uncertain at the moment because of the possible expansion of the Air Guard and new deafening jets.  We are hurting at the thought of leaving you to escape the unhealthy sound levels.  We fear that you will not be kept up or be appreciated as a peaceful refuge. 

On the other hand, if property values plummet, you may fall into the hands of a poor family who never dreamed they could afford such a great home.

“We leave behind a bit of ourselves wherever we have been.” 

– Edmond Haraucourt

© 2020 Ellen Magee

Ellen lives in Madison with her husband and animals too numerous to mention.  She is a retired social worker.  Her family includes her son, two step-sons and their assorted kids.  She keeps busy during COVID by writing racial justice-themed letters to decision makers and editors, mentoring people in substance abuse recovery, dancing, kayaking and e-biking.  Her goal in retirement is to cultivate her friendships.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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1 Response to Home

  1. Joan Connor says:

    Thank you, Ellen, for sharing this situation which definitely needs a follow-up.


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