The city council voted down two Progressive-sponsored resolutions opposing the basing of the F-35 fighter jet at the Burlington International Airport late Monday after a nearly three-hour public forum that filled City Hall to capacity.
The Progressives’ “compromise” resolution, which opposed the first round of basing and set safety and noise standards equal to the current F-16 used by the Vermont Air National Guard, failed by a vote of 11-3.
The resolution was designed to garner broader council support, according to Vince Brennan, P-Ward 3, who was lead sponsor of both resolutions. The other resolution that opposed the fighter jet was largely symbolic, he said.
Many councilors said the resolution would risk harming the future of the Burlington International Airport by setting noise limitations on future commercial aircraft, a concern raised by proponents of the F-35 after the resolution was tweaked last week.
This article was updated at 7:44 p.m. Tuesday.
Gene Richards, director of aviation for the airport, said setting noise standards that are tied to the current F-16 would “cap” the future expansion plans of the airport.
“We do not want to be limited by this resolution,” Richards said. “We don’t always have the luxury when we are talking to airlines to pick and choose what we want.”
Jane Knodell, P-Ward 2, who broke from the Progressive caucus on both resolutions, said noise standards at the airport would threaten the airport’s financial security.
“At the end of the day, I have to say, the risk to our economic well-being, which I think is too closely tied to our quality of life, is too high for me to be able to vote for this resolution,” Knodell said.
Even though Knodell never co-sponsored the resolutions, her change of opinion was a surprise, said Max Tracy, P-Ward 2. Her opinion seemed to change late last week, he said.
“I was completely shocked,” Tracy said after the vote.
Tom Ayres, D-Ward 7, who voted against both resolutions but considers himself a critic of the F-35, said the jet program should be stopped at the national level.
“I think it’s fair to say that the loudest noise the F-35 makes is the sound of pork slapping up against the side of a barrel in Lockheed Martin,” he said, referring to the lead contractor of the F-35 program.
Proponents of the F-35, mostly Burlington-based business leaders and members of the Vermont Air National Guard, stated that the Guard’s current mission depends on the F-35 to replace the current F-16s. Without the plane, the Guard’s economic contribution to the area would expire, proponents said.
Opponents of the basing, who hosted a rally ahead of the special meeting, restated health and safety concerns associated with bringing an untested fighter jet to airport that is adjacent to a populated South Burlington neighborhood, among other concerns with what they say are part of a “military boondoggle.”
During the nearly three-hour public forum, tightly packed residents chuckled, clapped, hissed and praised their neighbors’ opinions on the issue that has sparked an emotional debate throughout the summer.
However, the council vote does not mark the end to the debate. The Secretary of the Air Force will issue a final record of decision of where to base two fleets of F-35 fighters at separate locations in the U.S as soon as next week.
Opponents of the fighter jet also say the council’s vote is the beginning of another campaign against the F-35.
After the vote, Chris Hurd, a real estate developer from Burlington and a member of the Stop the F-35 group, said the opposition’s campaign to stop the F-35 is far from over.
“We see the landscape,” Hurd said. “We know what we are up against.”