Boardman: F-35 opposition intensifies

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by William Boardman of Woodstock. He produced “The Panther Program” on VPR for over a decade and served 20 years as a Windsor County side judge.

Public opposition to basing the F-35 first strike bomber in Burlington is intensifying on three fronts: legal, political, and public health.

With the Air Force’s final decision probably little more than a month away, the Stop the F-35 coalition has signed up dozens of people as co-plaintiffs in current and future legal actions, including a potential multi-million-dollar liability suit against the City of Burlington as the landlord of the Burlington International Airport. One estimate projects that housing made unsuitable for residential use could cost the city as much as $171 million if the city was to be held liable.

The Air Force’s environmental impact statement last spring estimates that at least 1,366 homes would be rendered unsuitable for residential use, while others say the impact will reach more than twice as many.

The first reaction of city attorney Eileen Blackwood was that she “was not aware of any basis on which the city would be liable.” Meanwhile, she is compiling documents to fulfill the coalition’s attorney’s first action, a public records request that will add details of the relationship between the city and the airport. The request is intended to put the city on notice that it “can be held liable for damages to health, hearing, home value, and nuisance to thousands of homeowners and renters caused by the noise its tenant at the airport – the Air Force – generates,” says a letter from the coalition.

The coalition’s attorney, James Dumont of Bristol, has extensive experience in environmental law and taught Environmental Litigation at Vermont Law School for many years. He sent the public records request to the city on Sept. 13. He is also laying the groundwork for possible challenges to the F-35 base through the local permit process, including Act 250, the Vermont environmental law, as well as through local zoning ordinances and the National Environmental Policy Act, a federal law.

In an email inviting people to join the legal action, the Stop the F-35 Coalition outlined its reasoning: “We view the legal challenges as one of the ways to demonstrate broad public opposition to basing the F-35 in the most densely populated part of Vermont. We want hundreds of people to participate. That is why we are making participation in these legal actions as easy as possible. The key is large numbers of people, and if large numbers participate, we will make an impact on the thinking of city officials, our Governor, our Congressional delegation, and the Air Force.”

To further public involvement in the discussion, the coalition has been leafleting in the region to draw as large a crowd as possible to a Community Meeting on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Chamberlain School in South Burlington.

While both Vermont’s senators, the state’s only congressman, the governor, and the mayor of Burlington have all expressed support for basing the nuclear-capable F-35 in Vermont, several have done so somewhat provisionally. While they generally indicate something about jobs being good, none of them has offered a cogent and detailed argument that demonstrates that the F-35 has a coherent mission or that it serves the overall public good.

In August the Vermont Chamber of Commerce announced that it had initiated a petition in support of the F-35 base. In response to a recent inquiry, a chamber spokesperson said there was nothing further to report on this.

To further public involvement in the discussion, the coalition has been leafleting in the region to draw as large a crowd as possible to a Community Meeting on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Chamberlain School in South Burlington. South Burlington is the only local government, under the leadership of a former Pentagon planner, to take a clear position in opposition to an F-35 base. Other affected local governments have equivocated, but none has expressed support.

The following day, Oct. 11, at Burlington City Hall, the city’s Board of Health will take public comment relating to health concerns about having an F-35 base at the airport.

The F-35, perhaps the world’s most expensive weapons system, is already more than a decade behind schedule and more than 100 percent over budget, but still has no deployment date. More than two years ago, the Air Force announced plans to replace its F-16 fleet with F-35s, possibly basing some in Burlington. The troubled trillion-dollar program may have a test version of the plane available in November.

More than 4,500 F-16s have been built for air forces around the world. The U.S. Air Force has some 2,200 F-16s, the last one coming off the assembly line in March 2005. The Air Force Times recently reported that, to “fill any gaps that might arise with the F-35 program,” the Air Force now plans to keep the F-16 in service another 18 years or more, past 2030.

Not that troubles with the F-35 are a new development. When the Air Force took its last F-16, affectionately called the “viper,” there were already problems with its presumed replacement, as one serviceman posted in the forum in March 2005: “What a great example of fixing what isn’t broken. Here we have a cost-effective [F-16] jet with a fantastic service record. But now we need the F-22 or F-35, more expensive, more ‘stealthy’ more technologically advanced etc. etc. What it means is more $$ in contracts for Lockheed, more $$ in training for US pilots, and more wasted dollars as the viper is put to pasture. IMHO the money should just be spent on upgrading the viper. I mean, stealth is becoming obsolete very quickly with advances in radar technology anyway. The saved money could also be put towards keeping bases open and people working instead of wasted on R&D. Maybe I just love the viper, or maybe it makes too much sense for the gov’t to see.”

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  • The F-35 is not Vermont-friendly. In fact, it is totally foreign to Vermont’s international image. Should any legislator support this invasion of Vermont because it creates jobs?

    The Air Force states, about 1,366 ADDITIONAL residences near the Burlington Airport will be rendered unsuitable for human habitation due to noise from the F-35s.

    This is also true for residences within about a mile from the (21) 3,000 kW Lowell Mountain wind turbines.

    Low frequency noise, 20-200 Hz, and infrasound, 0-20 Hz, are the most health-damaging.

    The whitewash is on-going. The Air Force is refusing to do some landings, take-offs and maneuvers near the airport to demonstrate to the people within about a mile of the runway that all is OK and there is nothing to worry about….

    Europe is requiring that commercial planes are designed to be quieter. Boeing and Airbus are bragging about how much quieter their planes are, and here comes along the Air Force and make things worse. Insanity run amok.

    This is not about defending the US. This is about federal money coming to Vermont to fund about 300- 400 operations and maintenance jobs in the Greater Burlington Area. That is why government leaders Leahy, Sanders, Welch, etc., are for it.

    Those planes need not be in Burlington, Vermont, to defend the US. They should be in forward bases, such as northern Maine, to defend the US from any enemy fighters coming from Europe.

    Typical rural nighttime ambient noise is 20-40 dBA and urban residential nighttime noise is 58-62 dBA. Higher noise levels adversely impact restful sleep of people; restful sleep is a basic requirement for good mental and physical health.

    Doubling the sound pressure level, SPL, increases the dB instrument reading by 6 dB.
    For example: If at 800 uPa (micropascal) the SPL = 20 log (800/20) = 32 dB, at 1600 uPa it is 38 dB, and at 3200 uPa it is 44 dB, where 20 micropascal is the lowest SPL the human ear can sense, it is used as the reference pressure.

    The increase in SPL = 115 dBA (F-35) – 94 dBA (F-16) = 21 dBA. This appears to be an innocent number, but it is anything but.

    A 6 dBA increase means a doubling of SPL
    A 12 dBA increase means a quadrupling of SPL
    An 18 dBA increase means 8 times SPL
    24 dBA is 16 times; 30 dBA is 32 times; 36 dBA is 64 times; 42 dBA is 128 times, 48 dBA is 256 times, 54 dBA is 512 times.

    A nighttime fly-over of an F-35 would have a 115 dBA – 60 dBA (nighttime residential) = 55 dBA greater sound; such a sound increase is sure to wake up everyone, except the dead.

    A nighttime fly-over of an F-16 would have a 94 dBA – 60 dBA (nighttime residential) = 34 dBA greater sound; residents near the end of the runway are barely tolerating such a sound increase.

    The F-35 sound will be 21 dBA greater than of the F-16, which will be perceived by residents as being about 7-10 times louder.

  • timothy price

    War is a racket, as has been shown again and again. With so much money in the military “budge” (cough) and little going to civilian jobs, our elite friendly Senators and Congressman hustle the money to convert Vermont from a self sustaining local economy, based upon its own resources, to a Pentagon dependent weapons economy. Yes, its all about jobs, cause jobs are scarce with no civilian work, but some jobs are below what any thinking Vermonter would consider doing. Being a lackey, a mercenary, for the financial global empire to overthrow more elected governments and installing US friendly dictators “to free the people” is one of them. Playing host to their machines of death and subjection to their financial plan for world control will not happen in Burlington. Speak truth to power.. go away.

  • Joe Randazzo

    Greetings Everyone,

    What is the real reason the F-35 is being rammed down everyone’s throat? Military/industrial/government porkbarreling, very simple. The F22A is a superior plane in EVERY way to the F-35. It flies faster, higher, has a greater range and payload, and is the best air-to-air combat fighter in the world. So why did Secretary Gates and President Obama in their infinite stupidity cancell the F22A? Because by U.S. law it can only be built for domestic consumption. Lockheed Martin lobbied extensively for the F-35 because they intend to sell several thousand to England, Norway, Australia, Canada and other countries. Do the math. 2,000 planes at 150 million dollars per plane. Not bad for Lockheed Martin. Check out this link from Air Power Australia It’s one of the best military think tanks in the world. They dislike the F-35 for many reasons.

    My objections are not only about the excessive noise and new aircraft safety concerns, ruined homes and schools….all of this is valid, but the aircraft itself is out of date before it’s even built. It is a turkey.

    Think of all the medical care, education benefits, and environmental studies we can do with that re-directed money. Using this country’s precious resources for the F-35 is a pact with the Devil.

  • Igor Zbitnoff

    Mitt Romney is alive and well in Vermont. He takes the form of Vermont politicians (Bernie, Patrick, Peter, and Peter) when they support the F35. They repeat half-truths over and over and pay no attention to the evidence, such as the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Air Force. This is disappointing to me since I have supported all of the above in the past. Not this time.

  • The Air Force states, about 1,366 ADDITIONAL residences near the Burlington Airport will be rendered unsuitable for human habitation due to noise from the F-35s.

    The 1,366 residences to be declared uninhabitable would be a greater loss to Vermont’s housing stock than caused by hurricane Irene.

    At about $200,000/residence, including relocation costs, the cost would be at least $280 million dollars. Who pays to make these families whole? Taxpayers, of course.

    Moving these families would not solve the noise problem for families just “outside” the impacted areas.

    Because the F-35 is problem-plagued (see internet under F-35 problems), it will probably has much down-time to perform “maintenance”; jobs, jobs, jobs!!!!!

    But if a wiser decision would keep the F-16s in place, NO jobs would be lost.

    The F-16s are more than adequate to defend against ANY likely intruder. How do I know this. The son of a friend of mine flies an F-16 based in Abu Dhabi, near Iran.

    But if the fear-mongers, such as Leahy, Welch, Weinberg, Sanders, Shumlin, etc., are right and NO planes would be based at the Burlington Airport, at most 100 jobs MIGHT be lost at a payroll cost of about $6 million/yr.

    It is beyond rational to trade $280 million in compensation payments for a $6 million/yr payroll.

    Only politicians, dealing with other people’s money, would view this as a good deal.

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