BURLINGTON — A group protesting the U.S. Air Force’s proposal to base F-35 fighter jets in South Burlington is pressuring Sen. Patrick Leahy to hear the concerns of residents who live in the flight path of the Burlington International Airport.
The Stop the F-35 Coalition will hold a rally at 3 p.m. on Wednesday at Leahy’s Burlington offices in an attempt to urge the Democratic senator to hold a public hearing on the potential environmental impacts of basing the fighter jets in South Burlington.
Leahy supports the Air Force’s proposal to replace the F-16 fighter plane now used by the Vermont Air Guard with the new generation of F-35 fighter jets.
The Air Force is reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that it prepared on the potential health effects of the jets. The release of the final EIS is expected next spring. A final decision would be made shortly thereafter.
The rally is the latest in a series of actions opponents of the proposal have staged to keep the issue in the public eye.
The group issued an open letter to the senator listing concerns over the noise levels and environmental impacts on the communities of South Burlington and Winooski that are in the flight path. Members of Stop the F-35 Coalition have complained that Leahy has ignored the concerns of local residents and that the public process has not been democratic.
“We know that you as a U.S senator can stop this basing,” the group wrote.
Richard Joseph, a member of the group, says time is of the essence.
“The purpose of the demonstration … is to demand that the senator very quickly (because the basing decision is imminent) hold and attend a hearing on the environmental impact of the F-35 in Burlington,” Joseph said.
Members of the group are requesting an in-person or phone audience with the senator to discuss their concerns.
Leahy’s office said it has received many letters advocating for and against the F-35 basing, but that ultimately the matter is not — and never has been — under the purview of Congress.
“The decision will be made by the Air Force and not by any member of Congress,” said David Carle, Leahy spokesman.
Carle said there are considerations that do make Burlington an ideal location for the planes, including its proximity to New York City.
“This decision will be crucial to the national air defense system, and the Vermont Guard’s participation on and after 9/11 is evidence of that,” he said.
Meanwhile, the conversation continues locally. On the same day as the rally, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien announced a plan to travel to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and hear, firsthand, the noise levels of the F-35 jets.