F-35 opponents claim the U.S. Air Force violated federal environmental law before making a decision last year to base the F-35 fighter jet in Burlington. A new legal filing from opponents marks the latest effort to block the military aircraft from Vermont.
A group of citizens who would be affected by the basing of the F-35 at Burlington International Airport filed a complaint in federal court Monday saying the Air Force did not follow requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act.
They say the Air Force failed to fully assess the environmental impacts of basing the jet in Burlington and how these impacts would be mitigated in its Environmental Impact Statement released last year.
They also allege that the Air Force failed to evaluate how its decision conflicts with state and local planning, how it might damage historical sites, how it would deal with toxic fumes emitted if a jet were to crash, and did not account for the possibility that the current F-16 is retired.
The Air Force on Monday said it had not read the complaint. The Bristol attorney representing the plaintiffs, Jim Dumont, said the Air Force has 45 days to file a response.
The Air Force last year selected Burlington to host 18 new fighter jets to replace the Guard’s current fleet of F-16s. The planes are not due to begin arriving until 2020.
Opponents of the basing decision say the military aircraft is not suited to fly within Vermont’s most populous urban area.
F-35 opponents say the jet will harm residents’ health and the environment. The well-organized Stop the F-35 Coalition staged protests and worked with several Progressives on the Burlington City Council last year to draft a policy opposing the jets.
The Guard, elected officials, the greater Burlington business community and Vermont’s congressional delegation support bringing the jets to Vermont. F-35 proponents have said the Guard would have to downsize if the F-35 fighter jets don’t replace the aging F-16 squadron.
The Air Force has not confirmed whether the Guard’s F-16s would be retired if Burlington was not selected to host the F-35.
“Burlington is scheduled to get the F-35,” said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. “From an Air Force perspective, the decision has been made. We wouldn’t speculate on something that is not going happen.”
The Air Force’s environmental impact statement says more than 1,000 homes would be exposed to noise that the Federal Aviation Administration considers unsuitable for residential use.
The FAA has previously purchased homes surrounding the airport that were exposed to the noise levels. However, this home buy-back program has been discontinued, airport officials has said.
The Guard last May released the first iteration of an environmental impact mitigation plan. Critics say it will do too little, too late.
Winooski residents in May asked the Vermont Supreme Court to require the city, which owns the airport, to obtain an Act 250 permit that addresses the noise impacts of the louder F-35, among other concerns.