Editor’s note: Anne Galloway contributed to this report. There is a video of the protest and a copy of the GBIC report at the end of the post.
About 100 protesters on Thursday night criticized the Democratic party leadership’s support for a proposal to bring the high-powered military planes known as F-35s to the Burlington International Airport. They chanted, sang and speechified as Vermont Democratic Party VIPs walked into a campaign fund-raiser at the Ethan Allen Homestead Pavilion in Burlington.
Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch and Gov. Peter Shumlin, who protesters expected to attend the fund-raiser, have all said they’re in favor of the proposal. Protesters have said members of the congressional delegation have not agreed to meet with them.
Opponents of the F-35s say the warplanes, which are known to be louder than the F-16s now based at the airport, would impact hundreds of homes in the Winooski and Burlington areas.
Earlier on Thursday, the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation released a report that determined that noise from the F-16s had no adverse impact on property values inside the 65 DNL zone, or the area right around the airport. (The report is posted at the end of this article.) Military officials have said the F-35s won’t be significantly louder.
Juliet Buck, an activist and blogger said she grew up as a Democrat and voted for Sanders, Welch and Shumlin, but that she wouldn’t do it again unless they changed course.
“All of these men have the time to stop, look at the evidence, and if nothing else take a step back and ask for more transparency and honesty in the process,” she said. “If that happens, Burlington will not get this plane.”
Among the VIPS on the other side of the field from the protesters were Democrats Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Lt. Gov. candidate Cassandra Gekas and Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan.
Jake Perkinson, chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, spoke with some of the demonstrators before the event started to gather feedback.
“Clearly there’s a lot of people that are impassioned about this issue,” Perkinson said. Neither he nor the Democratic Party has weighed in on the debate, and any resolution within the party must be submitted for review at least 10 days before a meeting. The party’s next meeting is Saturday, and no resolution regarding F-35s was submitted in advance.
While the party itself has been silent on the issue, TJ Donovan said it’s close to home for him – though not so close that he hears the F-16s overhead. Donovan said his cousin just bought a duplex in Winooski and feels threatened by the plan to bring F-35s into Vermont.
Glancing across the field at the protesters, Donovan saw a cousin and some other familiar faces.
“I know a lot of these folks,” he said. “They’re good people. It’s a tough issue for a lot of people, I get it. As I said, I’m looking at one of my cousins over there, so I get it. You’re talking about people’s home values. This is personal. This is people’s retirements.”
GBIC says data shows noise has no adverse impact on homes near airport
The Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation issued a report on Thursday that indicates property values have not been affected by noise from the F-16s or commercial airplane traffic from Burlington International Airport.
The report is based on properties that fall in the 2006 contour map of the 65 DNL zone. GBIC compared property sales data from the DNL zone with values in the larger Chittenden County area.
The study is based on information from a comprehensive database of multiple listing service sales from 2002 to the present. It includes data from 54 condo units in the Winooski Falls residential development project and the Burlington International Airport buy-back program of about 200 properties South Burlington. The Winooski Falls data did not include properties valued at more than $400,000.
The federal home loan guarantee program would not be affected by the 65 DNL line, according to the report.
Frank Cioffi, executive director of GBIC, ordered the study because he said “I thought someone ought to do an analysis of sales because the facts have to be out there.”
“Our concern in South Burlington and Winooski is we’re looking at the most affordable housing available in Chittenden County,” Cioffi said. Many of the residents include retirees and young families.
“For retired folks that’s their life savings,” Cioffi said. “Some were really concerned and opponents were getting them worked up about it.”
GBIC supports the basing of the F-35s at the Burlington airport and launched a website vermontf35.com to disseminate information about the proposal.
“Eleven hundred jobs is significant,” Cioffi says. “When you analyze how vital the Burlington International Airport is to employers in this county and state — that airport remains a vital flow of commerce into Vermont. It gets people and products out into the world.”
Cioffi says the presence of the Vermont Air National Guard at the airport helps to defray infrastructure development and operations costs for the airport. The Guard also provides emergency supplies and protection for the airport that is worth about $2.5 million a year. The F-35 would bring $53 million to the local economy, he said.
CORRECTION: We originally reported that Gov. Peter Shumlin was scheduled to attend the fundraiser. This was not the case. Protesters expected him to attend.