At hearing, public divided over bedding F-35s in Burlington

On video: F-35s in Vermont
Hundreds of concerned residents turned out for an Air Force hearing on the possible bedding of 18 to 24 F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport. These highlights include statements from US Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Governor Peter Shumlin; comments by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, businessman Tom Brassard, Winooski Mayor Mike O’Brien and councilor Sarah Robinson, and Rep. Brian Savage; plus the views of area residents including Cory Mack, Meagan Emery, Steve Trono, Laura Caputo, David DesLauriers, and Janice Schwartz.

BURLINGTON — Local residents expressed strong, often conflicting views at a hearing Monday night about whether the Burlington airport should become home to F-35 fighter jets. More than 300 people gathered at South Burlington High School to discuss the environmental and economic impacts of the proposal.

Most Vermont officials and business owners who spoke, or sent messages, waxed enthusiastic about the prospect. They touted economic benefits, showered praise on the Vermont Air National Guard, and warned about the possibility of lost National Guard jobs if Burlington isn’t chosen.

Opponents pointed to increased noise levels and other impacts that could damage or even destroy the viability of nearby neighborhoods.

Five locations are currently being considered by the U.S. Air Force, but Burlington International Airport is one of two “preferred alternatives.” The other is Hill Air Force Base in Utah, an Air Force command center that handles a wide variety of aircraft.

Several speakers opposed to basing the aircraft in Vermont wondered why Burlington’s relatively small airport, located adjacent to a residential neighborhood, is being considered over larger, more remote locations.

While proponents suggest this merely reflects the Vermont Guard’s excellent reputation, another reason is clearly cost. Modifications to the Burlington airport would cost $4.6 million, while changes at Hill are estimated at $40 million.

Delivery of between 18 and 24 joint strike fighters could begin in 2015, eventually flying out of Burlington airport between 5,486 and 7,296 times a year. Eighteen F-16s currently maintained by the Vermont Air Guard would be reassigned or retired.

The hearing began with a brief description of the process, followed by statements from public officials. John Tracy and David Weinstein read a joint statement from Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders who called the selection of Burlington a “major vote of confidence” for the Vermont National Guard. The statement stopped short, however, of endorsing Burlington’s selection. The two senators urged the Air Force to consider the “legitimate concerns” being expressed about noise and other environmental impacts.

Remarks read on behalf of Rep. Peter Welch were similarly nuanced, balancing the “vital importance” of the Guard and the need to hear from the community. Welch plans to submit a letter to the Air Force “reiterating what he learns from the feedback.”

“I … feel strongly that (the) drawbacks are outweighed by the extraordinary benefits that this opportunity presents our communities and our state.” ~Peter Shumlin

Gov. Peter Shumlin was unequivocal in his statement. He pointed to the prospect of jobs, economic growth and investment opportunities.

“I know there are some concerns about noise and other potential drawbacks,” he wrote. “While I appreciate those concerns I also feel strongly that these drawbacks are outweighed by the extraordinary benefits that this opportunity presents our communities and our state.”

The F-35, already the largest single military program in history, has been in development for more than a decade. Eight foreign countries are part of a coalition that has agreed to buy the multi-purpose aircraft once it is perfected.

But a long, growing list of agencies and officials, including the Government Accountability Office, parts of the U.S. Department of Defense, congressional committees and national parliaments in other nations, are becoming increasingly worrried about cost increases, design faults and missed deadlines.

The price per plane is currently estimated at somewhere between $110 million and $150 million — not counting another $184 million in weapons systems for each aircraft.

During a March congressional hearing, lawmakers told Defense Department and Air Force officials that the fighter jet’s development has become a prime example of how not to run such a program. A GAO report says that the F-35 already has a cost overrun of more than $1 billion and production has been delayed by six years.

A GAO report says that the F-35 already has a cost overrun of more than $1 billion and production has been delayed by six years.

At the same time the fiscal crisis in the European Union has raised questions about whether the original F-35 coalition will survive much longer. Last week, Australia pushed back its planned purchase of 70 planes by two years, which will save the country $1.6 billion. That decision came a month after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blocked the Defense Ministry from spending any more on the fighter. Britain has also pulled back on its planned purchases.

In Fort Worth, Texas, unionized workers went on strike in late April over health-care benefits and pensions at the plant where Lockheed Martin is building the plane, and at two military bases where it is being tested. The main sticking point is Lockheed’s call for an end to the employees’ defined benefits pension. In previous contract negotiations they gave up medical benefits for retired workers.

During the public hearing at South Burlington High School, many who want the plane based in Vermont also have economic matters in mind. Tom Brasssard, a business owner and vice chair of the Burlington Business Association, urged people to “imagine what it would be like without the Air Guard here.”

His conclusion was that its presence is more important than any concerns about increased noise. Brassard and others warn that if the F-35 does not come to Burlington the National Guard base could see cutbacks, or even be closed.

Resident Steve Trono argued that the decision is a human rights issue that will affect the health and well-being of many area residents. He pointed out that the impacts would be relatively larger in Burlington than at the other bases under consideration.

“It will make more than 1,000 houses unsuitable for residential use,” he noted. Like other critics of the plan, he called claims that the base might close if the F-35 isn’t bedded in Burlington “a cheap scare tactic.”

Louis Holmes, also an opponent, argued it doesn’t make sense to base such a noisy, problematic aircraft in a densely populated area that also depends on tourism. Noting that many people who support the idea were talking about the record of the Air National Guard, while most in opposition commented on the environmental impacts, he wondered whether comments that did not focus on the contents of the EIS should be part of the official record.

According to the Air Force analysis, between 1,820 and 2,863 households could be affected by the increased noise of the aircraft. The environmental impact statement concludes that “the number of complaints received by the installation and level of annoyance experienced by underlying communities and residents would likely increase.”

Under the heading socioeconomics, the statement notes that if 18 jets are bedded in Burlington there will be no impact on “regional employment, income, or the regional housing market.” However, the arrival of 24 planes would lead to 266 more military jobs. In either case, an estimated $2.34 million would be spent on construction, mainly in 2016.

The EIS also mentions “environmental justice,” a reference to the disproportionate number of low-income and minority residents live in areas who would experience the greatest noise impacts. It indicates that seven neighborhoods and two churches, as well as the Chamberlain School and St. Michael’s College, would experience “incompatible land uses for residential purposes.”

Juliet Buck, a leading critic of the plan, asked a series of pointed questions. “How much is noise remediation going to cost for the homes that aren’t bulldozed, assuming there might actually be some remediation? How long will condemned homes remain vacant?” Such questions should be addressed and answered before “anyone other than an open industry shill supports this,” she said.

The Environmental Impact Statement can be read at, or by calling 757-764-9334 for a hard copy. The public comment period is open until June 1. In the meantime, a discussion of the F-35 will be on the May 21 agenda of the South Burlington City Council.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weimberger has opted to review both the EIS and the community response before issuing his position.

Greg Guma

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17 Comments on "At hearing, public divided over bedding F-35s in Burlington"


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Christian Noll
4 years 8 months ago
The Noise Pollution produced by the F35 Joint Strike Fighter WILL DESTROY and DIMINISH the quality of life in South Burlington, Vermont. Of Course the Vermont Air Guard wants it. Its the newest and most expensive toy in the Air Force. What good things we could do in the world with 133 million dollars(ea). Why not Plattsburg? Their runway is much bigger and specifically designed for military aircraft with a much smaller civilian impact. The Vermont Guard should lease the waisted Plattburg Air Force Base and run it from there in NY. That would be in the true spirit of… Read more »
Don Koh
4 years 8 months ago
I’m curious if anyone stood up to speak on really the most relative issue here (?), which is… that in the next 10-15 yrs, there will be so few F-35s actually afforded that the wholly flawed acquisition Program from inception will by default force a major consolidation of the current ‘Active and ANG’ force structure and operational organization as we know it today. There might not even be an ANG per se. Seriously. Flat out, and very unfortunately, the ongoing unsustainable recapitalization process will force a less than desirable and less than required reality in the Nation’s tactical force structure… Read more »
timothy k price
4 years 8 months ago
Vermont once had a stone industry, the finest in the world, but big bankers and cheap steel turned Vermont to building cheap and fast bridges. Unfortunately steel and concrete rot, so we are needing to rebuild them. Today, federal grant money cannot be used for stone arch bridges, even though they are the only ones still in use from the 1800s, and our stone industry is almost dead. Vermont is competing in a rigged game, and losing. Wouldn’t it be nice if, rather than accepting “cheap and fast” free money from the feds, the people of Vermont, along with some… Read more »
Dave Bellini
4 years 8 months ago
Sounds like a good idea unless you happen to be one of the 1820 – 2863 households that will have to invest in earplugs. One idea rejected by the military was to fly the new planes over the community so people could judge the noise level for themselves. Of course, the Air Force isn’t about to do THAT. I work in Winooski. The current crop of fighter jets drowns out conversation in parts of Winooski. There are times when I have to go inside a building or an automobile and shut the windows to be able to communicate. If the… Read more »
Bob Zeliff
4 years 8 months ago
I know many oppose our Federal Government decisions on Military Spending and the Wars. I count myself amount them. However, we do have a civic responsibly to also support and serve our Country, not just when it is easy. The Green Mountain Boys have not only served Vermont and the Nation many many years, they have done it extraordinarily well. They have received many honors. They have an important mission. Due to that hard work and outstanding performance, they (Vermont) are being consider for this new aircraft. I think we are duty and obligation bound to support the Green Mountain… Read more »
Christian Noll
4 years 8 months ago
I’m going to venture a guess that Mr Zeliff doens’t live in South Burlington. Take the F35 to Plattsburg. Its that same “Moral commitment” which compells us to reconsider turning Burlington, Vermont into a “Military town” regardless of any economic stimulus. The German and Japanese armies in WWII “Served their countries” too. Many could disagree that invading Afganistan, Iraq, Vietnam is “Serving our Country.” Fighter aircraft are here to protect the peace, not destroy it. We already have an overzelous police department in South Burlington and now we need more military? When was the last time you saw and Iraqi… Read more »
timothy k price
4 years 8 months ago

“the opportunity to allow the Green Mountain Boys to continue their fine service for us, would and should be considered a shirking of our responsibility.”

That is sales pitch, based upon a false notion of patriotism: that is a disease in America… is the disease of America.

We have different moral commitments than the Green Mountain Boys.
It will never be our duty to facilitate the opportunity for others to pursue unlimited kill options though high-tech weaponry. Tell that to somebody else.

Lester French
4 years 8 months ago
Another good article to stir up debate! Given that the federal government is going ahead with the planes, opposition boils down to “Not In My Back Yard” again. Supporters are looking at the economic benefits to the Burlington area. Looking at the national picture: spend $40 million to upgrade Hill AFB, or $4.6 million for Burlington. For those of us who work hard to support our households and pay taxes, the easy choice is spend less. On a topic not addressed, what weapons will these planes be able to carry? Nuclear? What about the potential for accidents, conventional or otherwise.… Read more »
Christian Noll
4 years 8 months ago
Lester good points. The F35A CTOL IS included in Obama’s Nuclear Weapons Moderization Budget. The retro fit will allow it to carry two B61-12 nuclear bombs, one in each bay. Yes it is “interesting” to see Gov Shum support the plan. Money speaketh loudeth. I’ve been down in the Danby Quarry numerous times and not once was I alearted to the presence of radiation nor did I hear the crackle of the Geiger Counter. I think Mr Price was refering to the fact that Vermont has a potentially valuable resource in stone and granite so why not use those… Read more »
timothy k price
4 years 8 months ago

You are suggesting the working at a granite quarry is unsafe because of radiation hazards. This is new to me. Would you please provide some supporting documentation for your comment so the we can better evaluate your concern?

Yonur Lew
4 years 8 months ago
So sick of the military. I prefer not to donate my tax money to the Lockheed Martin shareholders F-35 cause. Would rather spend it on developing local business enterprise in my own community or on local schools. In my community, 55% of k-8 kids are eligible for free lunch and breakfast. Don’t think F-35 would help fix that. (Disclaimer: I support the troops and respect their right to choose to sacrifice their lives to the globalist military industrial complex.) Shumlin is an improvement over robotic Douglas, but why would you expect him not to be in favor of big government… Read more »
timothy k price
4 years 8 months ago
The Occupy movement is doing all that the members can to create a sustainable, direct democracy dedicated to healing our planet and practicing equal rights for all. TPTB try to divide us into sides, but we are onto them now. There is no difference between Dempublican and Republocrats; they both work for the financial elite and hose the working poor and middle class in the process. What to do? Get your money out of paper, grow and preserve your food, vote out incumbents, and don’t believe the media. Join up with like minded Occupy people so you have a strong… Read more »
Pete Novick
4 years 8 months ago

Please keep in mind that US Air Force and ANG pilots are required to have a minimum number of flying hours per month and per calendar quarter and that a fair number of these hours must be qualified as night flying hours. Additionally, pilots must remain proficient in vertical takeoff and landing as well as hover, day and night.

If you would like get a sense of the noise these aircraft will make in the neighborhoods around airports, there are plenty of examples on You Tube. Here’s one, and please turn up the volume on your computer.

Bob Zeliff
4 years 8 months ago

The videos are informative. Good idea.
I believe the vertical hover version show is the Marine/British version. I do not think the Air Force will be getting any of those, or VTANG. But it is a good question to ask.

4 years 7 months ago
“For the first 20 minutes Sens. Sanders and Leahy, Rep. Welch, Gov. Shumlin and others issued statements declaring their unconditional support for the basing of the F-35s.” That troika is for almost anything that brings federal dollars into Vermont. The F-35 fighter plane uses about 1.8 gallon of jet fuel/mile, or about 45 gallons per 25 miles. Each plane is the equivalent of 45 cars emitting pollutants and CO2. There will be 18 to 24 of them. There will be between 5,486 to 7,296 sortees per year; each sortee involves a landing and a takeoff. F-35 fighter planes fly about… Read more »
Kirby Burt
4 years 2 months ago

What I really need to know is whether or not the government is willing to reimburse residents whose property values decrease and are finding themselves incapable of selling their homes, like the 200+ residences that have been bought by the airport since the f-16s came in. Concrete answers and sources anyone?

Christian Noll
4 years 2 months ago

Kirby the answer to your question is NO they will not “reimburse” us for the decrease in property values to our homes.

The F-35 just might as well bomb our homes.

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