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Protest planned over fighter jet installation in Klamath Falls

A computer generated mockup image of a fighter jet display in the middle a grassy park
City of Klamath Falls
A mockup of the fighter jet display in the Veterans Memorial Park, presented at the city council meeting on May 16, 2022

This weekend, a group of Klamath Falls residents is protesting a planned installation of a decommissioned F-15 fighter jet in a downtown city park.

Last summer, the City of Klamath Falls and Klamath County approved the use of $600,000 in COVID relief funding to install a decommissioned F-15 fighter jet in Veteran’s Memorial Park on the edge of Lake Ewauna near downtown.

The jet would come from nearby Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base. According to the base’s website, it’s known as the training grounds for all F-15 pilots in the National Guard and Air Force.

The effort to bring a decommissioned jet to one of the city’s parks has been going on since 2015, according to the city.

Klamath Falls resident Ed Schilling is one of the organizers of the jet installation protest. He said there are sometimes homeless veterans sleeping in or near the park, and the federal relief funding could be better used for support services.

“You’ve got people with PTSD, people who are suffering from substance abuse and so on,” Schilling said. “And these funds, I think, should be used much more humanely than mounting this jet.”

Schilling said this project is an improper use of COVID relief funds. The Klamath Falls city council disagrees.

“Our council has determined that to help improve our economy and tourism to our community, that this is an appropriate use of those funds,” said Klamath Falls Public Information Officer Kristina Mainwaring.

According to guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department, in general, funding categorized as “responding to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic” can’t be used for general economic development, or, “activities that… generally enhance the jurisdiction’s business climate.”

But, Mainwaring said the city counts this project under the criteria of “replacing lost public sector revenue,” as the city lost tourism during the pandemic. In building this display, Mainwaring said they hope to attract more tourists to the city.

The guidance on that category is much more broad. According to the Treasury Department, “Revenue loss is the most flexible eligible use category under the [State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds] program.”

Mainwaring added other projects, like playground installations, pool improvements and new trash receptacles in the downtown were all funded with ARPA dollars, and those didn’t receive any backlash.

The city already works with other organizations to help both veterans and homeless people in Klamath Falls, she said.

Because of the public outcry, the city is considering moving the display to the other side of the Veteran’s Memorial Park, where several other veterans memorials and displays are located.

Schilling and other residents plan to march through downtown on Saturday. They’ll end at the park, where they’ll place flowers on the ground to show how much space the jet display will take up.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.