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Disturbing the Peace 

Air Force jets have gotten louder recently--and local residents are up in arms.

Now the United States Air Force has really done it. Training jets flying in and out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base interrupted Kathleen Williamson's nap the other day.

It's more than that, really. So much so that Williamson, a lawyer, cultural anthropologist and locally honored songwriter and performer, released a burst of complaints about non-stop, window-rattling, "debilitating" Air Force jet noise.

Williamson, who shares a home on East Lee Street near North Fourth Avenue with partner Lisa Otey, has been joined by others who are disturbed by the sharp increase in the number of flights passing over Tucson. It's not just more planes. It is that they are louder, say Williamson and others from neighborhoods north of downtown and near the University of Arizona.

"The federal jet operations have become an intolerable hell," Williamson said in a Jan. 16 e-mail to the City Council and a long list of citizens. "We can't sleep, we can't talk on the phone, we can't get any peace. The jets fly at our zenith at all hours of the night and wake us from a sound sleep. When I tried to take a nap yesterday afternoon, the jets were flying over every 60 seconds and causing my windows to rattle.

"Many times a day, I have to ask the person on the phone to please wait until a jet passes before we can resume a conversation. This noise situation is having a very debilitating effect on my physical, mental and emotional health. I did not move to a flight path. ... Downtown Tucson is going to turn into a flight blight if you don't do something to stop this outrageous noise pollution, danger to human lives and degradation of the Tucson lifestyle."

Williamson, a former deputy Pima County attorney and former special city magistrate, and Otey, inducted last year to the Tucson Music Hall of Fame, have lived in their home on a rare large lot since the early 1990s. Aside from a few greetings from their Akita and some barking from two pit bulls across the street, all was quiet Monday afternoon.

But that has become increasingly rare, Williamson says.

The complaints have not impressed the area's City Council member, Ward 3 Republican Kathleen Dunbar.

"The economic benefit Davis-Monthan brings to Tucson exceeds $1 billion and (it) is one of Tucson's top 10 employers. That said, it is not in our best interest as a community to implement policies and procedures that would adversely affect their ability to operate a facility that trains our soldiers to fight for the freedom we all are grateful for as Americans," Dunbar said in a Jan. 22 response.

The noise, as the cliché goes, is the sound of freedom. Williamson has heard that before. The point is raised, along with arguments about Davis-Monthan's huge economic role in Tucson, at a time of war in Iraq and as a major effort is mounted to keep Davis-Monthan, which began operations in 1925, off base-closure lists.

Williamson was irked by what she considered a "form response" from Dunbar and told her, "it is not in my economic best interests to have these jets roaring over my downtown Tucson house at 10:30 p.m."

On the other side of the UA, medical student Kambria Beck said she can no longer study at her Sam Hughes Neighborhood home, because her "concentration is constantly interrupted by these jets. There are times when jets fly over every couple minutes. Sometimes two will fly over within one minute or the same jet will circle several times. The jets are flying early in the morning and fly as late at 11 p.m. or later every day of the week. I feel like I am going to lose my mind."

If it's any consolation, Beck, Williamson and others are not imagining the increased and louder traffic in and out of Davis-Monthan.

Janie McLaurey, the director of community relations at Davis-Monthan, cheerfully handles the calls and complaints about the planes. Some callers are on a first-name basis.

Traffic is up because of increased training with "snowbird" squadrons, including those from cold-weather Air National Guards. The types of planes have played a significant role. While Tucsonans have become accustomed to relatively quiet A-10s, there now are loud F-16s and F-18s, and a handful of F-15s. Additionally, C-130s and AJ-16 helicopters are being flown.

"Almost anything is louder than an A-10," McLaurey says.

And there are later and more frequent flights, says McLaurey, who files each complaint to include in weekly briefings.

Davis-Monthan, she says, "is not doing anything it is not authorized to do."

Williamson's Davis-Monthan dust devil kicked up plenty of conversation and memory. Artist Karen Piovaty recalled how her parents, living near Fifth Street and Country Club Road, complained in the mid-'70s about the noise from D-M training missions. She remembered leaving an art class one day and seeing a pilot "floating to the ground" after he ejected from a crashing plane that narrowly missed Mansfeld Junior High School on Oct. 26, 1978.

Grace McIlvain, a top Tucson lawyer, chimed in that "there were at least two women who were severely burned in that accident when the burning plane or part of the plane fell on them just south of campus."

Steve Emerine, a former editor at the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen, added the rest of the story in that e-mail discussion last week by informing participants that those women, UA students, were killed.

The plane struck at East Sixth Street and Highland Avenue, where the UA Recreation Center now sits.

Williamson has been shuffled. Dunbar and others tell her to call Davis-Monthan. Base spokesmen tell her to call the City Council or even the police. The police tell her they are powerless--"I know they can't go out there and lock up D-M"--but she insists that they log the complaints.

The City Council, she says, is not powerless. She noted that the council spoke clearly, if by a partisan 4-3 split, to Washington when it adopted a resolution last year opposing the Patriot Act.

"It's bullshit that they can't do anything," Williams said in an interview. "They do speak to the federal government. They can get together with the Board of Supervisors" to send the message the Air Force "shouldn't be flying over an urban area. They can stand up for the citizenry."

Williamson says she may "need to graduate and start harassing the federal guys.

"I've turned into a real bitch over here on this issue," she said.

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