The roar from above rattles windowpanes. It’s been known to pause classes at Mountain View Elementary School. Some residents claim it’s triggered headaches and other medical problems.
And even though the airfield and the surrounding neighborhoods have shared a fence line since the 1940s, the sounds from the planes still spark complaints.
Mountain View resident Patricia Bray made an appearance at her neighborhood’s community council meeting in February to ask whether anyone else in the area has noticed negative health effects tied to military noise. She said she’s been dealing with the issue for years.
“When you’re outdoors, and you’re hearing this stuff outdoors, the impact is phenomenal,” said Bray, who refused to go into detail but said she’s also concerned with electromagnetic fields and base-generated radiation. “Waiting at the bus stop, the sounds were absolutely deafening.”
From the neighborhoods surrounding JBER, you can watch F-22s slice across the sky or see C-17s glide low over rooftops. The noise that follows ranges from a dull howl to a deep rumble.
The U.S. Air Force pays close attention to the sounds it makes.
According to an environmental assessment published by JBER in 2011, flights are conducted to “avoid the extension of 65 dB [day-night average] noise contours into the Mountain View community,” and residential areas are “normally considered incompatible” with average noise levels above 65 dB.
Prolonged exposure to noises louder than 85 dB can cause permanent hearing loss, according to the American Speech Language Hearing Association.
Jet noise in Mountain View regularly creeps above 75 decibels.
Mountain View is so close to the flight line, in fact, that a dozen or so blocks on the neighborhood’s northeast edge fall within an Accident Potential Zone 1 (APZ1)—15 million-square-foot spaces just past each end of every base runway. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers frowns on land uses that concentrate people in these high-risk zones, hundreds of people live in homes within Mountain View’s APZ1.
Given the close relationship between JBER and nearby neighborhoods, Tommie Baker is familiar with noise complaints.
The Alaskan Command’s chief of community relations said ALCOM handled approximately 75 noise complaints statewide last year. About a dozen of those complaints came from the Anchorage area.
“Surprisingly, they’re not always about the jets,” Baker said. “Sometimes some of them are Army related.”
People complain about artillery and mortar fire and planes and other things, he said. A few years ago, a Mountain View woman’s complaint about the volume of the daily Reveille triggered a Congressional Inquiry into the issue.
There are other ways to raise concerns about noise besides contacting your Congressional delegation, Baker said. People can call 1-800-JET-NOISE, or 522-JETS locally. There’s also a form online at JBER.af.mil.
At Mountain View Elementary School, staff members hope a long-awaited construction project will help mute the sounds of the military planes overhead.
The school, built more than 50 years ago, has never had a major structural overhaul.
“Depending on what they’re doing on base, [this] can be a very, very noisy school,” said Chris Woodward, Mountain View’s principle.
A bond proposal on the Municipality of Anchorage’s upcoming April ballot would pay for a $13 million renovation at the elementary school, among other projects. The proposed Mountain View Elementary School remodel involves several noise-proofing improvements, Woodward said. Windows throughout the school would be reduced in number and upgraded for thermal efficiency and sound-deadening qualities. New insulation would also help conserve energy and block jet noise, the principal said.
“I’m sure we’ll still be able to hear it, but it won’t be overwhelming,” Woodward said.
Depending on military movement, new soundproofing might not do the trick for long.
JBER may eventually become home to F-16s now stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, Baker said.
When the move was last proposed in 2013, local lawmakers decried the “unacceptable noise levels” it would bring to Mountain View. Mayor Dan Sullivan said the new noise levels might force Mountain View Elementary School to relocate, according to an Anchorage Daily News article published July 17, 2013. While the F-16 move was tabled later that year, Baker said it still remains a future possibility.
Currently, the ALCOM community relations chief said the jet sounds heard in northeast Anchorage depend on a variety of factors, including the weather conditions and the type of airplane and the runway it’s using.
Under normal circumstances, Baker said the base uses its east-west runway to mitigate the noise impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. When the east-west runway is down for major maintenance every two years or so or closed intermittently on an as-needed basis, Baker said, the alternative is the north-south runway, which is also much louder.
The base’s neighbors can also expect more noise in the early mornings and mid-afternoons, he said, because that’s when the jets tend to take off and land. The specific details stay under wraps for “operational security.”
Baker said he usually sees a spike in jet noise complaints in overcast conditions, when the sound of the engines is trapped under a blanket of clouds. In all cases, he said ALCOM tries to handle noise complaints within 72 hours, looking into the source of the problem and possible reasonable solutions.
“It allows recourse for the complainant and it allows us to ask, ‘Are we being good neighbors?’” Baker said. “And I think we are.”
Correction: Originally, this article incorrectly stated that there had been sonic booms reported in the Anchorage area. According to ALCOM, sonic booms have only been reported in other parts of the state.