Leas: Burlington, beware, the F-35 can be very costly

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, is a patent lawyer from South Burlington.

The City of Burlington is owner of the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington.

The City of Burlington purchased over 120 houses near the airport in South Burlington for demolition. The city is continuing its purchase program to eventually acquire and demolish 200 homes. The cost for these purchases is expected to total about $40 million.

The zoning permits on file for these demolitions in South Burlington City Hall all state one — and only one — reason for the demolition: airport noise above the 65 dB DNL (day-night average).

Some prominent politicians, including Peter Shumlin, Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch and Miro Weinberger, appear to be looking at out-of-date information and are overlooking the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of homes will be put at risk. They have considered only that jobs may be at risk if the F-35 does not come to Burlington.

According to the Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement, F-16 noise currently “dominates” the noise contours and “the contribution of civilian aircraft is negligible compared to the military aircraft contribution” to airport noise (BR4-21). Those military jets operate out of the airport with permission of its landlord, the City of Burlington.

Now let’s consider the F-35. The noise contour maps provided by the United States Air Force in its draft environmental impact statement show that the F-35 will put 2,944 homes within the 65 dB DNL noise zone (BR4-30). The noise contour maps show that portions of Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, Williston and Colchester fall into that noise zone. An actual count shows that more than three-quarters of the residential units in Winooski will be in the F-35 noise zone.

Having admitted on the record that the City of Burlington purchased and demolished homes exclusively because they are in a 65 db DNL zone, how will Burlington city officials now argue that the city has no responsibility toward the thousands of homeowners and renters whose homes will be placed in that 65 dB DNL zone when the city permits its tenant to operate F-35 planes on city-owned land?

If the cost for acquiring and demolishing the 200 homes in the F-16’s 65 dB DNL zone in South Burlington is $40 million, shouldn’t Burlington city officials be doing the math to calculate the cost for the 2,944 homes, five schools, and six churches that the United States Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement says will be in the vastly expanded 65 dB DNL zone when the F-35 comes to the airport Burlington owns?

Some prominent politicians, including Peter Shumlin, Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch and Miro Weinberger, appear to be looking at out-of-date information and are overlooking the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of homes will be put at risk. They have considered only that jobs may be at risk if the F-35 does not come to Burlington.

While leaders of the Vermont Air National Guard have emphasized the number of full- and part-time jobs at the base in their talking points, the possibility of the base closing and the jobs-at-risk argument was never made by the Air Force itself. In addition, certain community leaders engaged in pure speculation that the Burlington Air National Guard station might close if the F-35 did not come to Burlington.

But the Air Force Times reported on Sept. 19 that “the Air Force is planning two upgrades to the F-16C and D fleet, with the goal of extending service life past 2030.”

Now that the life of the F-16C is being extended past 2030, the underlying basis for speculation has evaporated that the Vermont Air National Guard base may close and that jobs are at risk if Burlington is not first to get the F-35. In addition, even if the F-16C mission were ending — and it is not — the Air National Guard website lists important missions that are more appropriate for a residential community. Equipment that could save lives and save homes during the next hurricane would be most appropriate.

What must now be given full attention by our political leaders is avoiding a mission that inherently puts thousands of Vermonters’ homes at risk. In view of the fact that over 60 homes in South Burlington have already been demolished because of being in the 65 dB DNL noise zone and that 120 more homes are in the process toward demolition, there can be no argument about whether homes and towns are at risk. One can hardly find a more glaring example of guesswork trumping facts in the minds of our state’s top political leaders if they continue down their current path of focusing on jobs that are not at risk and ignoring Vermonters whose housing is at risk. Vermonters are calling on our political leaders to recognize that legitimate issues are at stake here that should be addressed before a decision is made.

A two-track campaign is under way to inject common sense into the minds of the state’s political leaders, to save homes, and to preserve our neighborhoods and our towns. And to save the City of Burlington and its taxpayers from such enormous potential liability. This campaign includes (a) building citizen participation in visible public actions and (b) legal actions that include hundreds of homeowners and renters as plaintiffs. The purpose of these legal actions is to stop the F-35, thus preventing the need for the City of Burlington to ever compensate thousands of additional homeowners and renters.

The legal actions are already under way under Vermont Attorney James Dumont, who has long experience with land-use cases in Vermont. (Add your name as a plaintiff.)

Mr. Dumont will be publicly launching, describing, and answering questions about those legal actions at Chamberlin School, 262 White St., South Burlington on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. Retired Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco, chair of the South Burlington City Council, will be among those speaking.

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  • James,

    This is an excellent post.

    “Some prominent politicians, including Peter Shumlin, Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch and Miro Weinberger, appear to be looking at out-of-date information and are overlooking the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of homes will be put at risk. They have considered only that jobs may be at risk if the F-35 does not come to Burlington.”

    These are the same politicians, in thrall with RE subsidies for their friends, campaign contributors, etc., who:

    – have the state pay 27c/kWh for PV solar energy to favored “investors”, such as GMP.

    – destroy thousands of acres of fauna and flora and animal habitats to build highways 2,500 ft high on ridge lines to build 459 ft tall wind turbines with 373 ft diameter rotors to produce subsidized wind energy at 10 c/kWh, 2 times grid prices, 15 c/kWh unsubsidized, 3 times grid prices, by favored “investors”, such as GMP; insanity and crony-capitalism run amok.

    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, and updated versions, 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 $6-8 million/yr.

    It is beyond rational to trade $280 million in compensation payments for a $6-8 million/yr payroll.

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

    Here is some info regarding the noise.

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

    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 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.

  • Lana Griffin

    James, excellent….article. Well said and so much common sense. I am stunned by the Congressional Delegation and Governor Shumlin. They surely would fail any basic ethics course….”greater good” of who? Lockhead…Air Force…personal gain..? Air Force doesn’t need Vermont, that’s for sure. Our stellar Air Guard, Green Mountain Men and Women will always have a job by the time F 16 is phased out in 2030…there will be better technology fighting cyber wares and financial terrorism. What century are they living in anyway. Burlington deserves whatever they get for supporting this trillion dollar porky boondoggle.

  • Denise Lawson

    What a well written article!! I plan to forward to every news outlet, publication and journal I can find. I encourage others to do the same. Someone will pick up the story nationally, time and persistance. Also sending along the WPTZ link to Ernie Pomerleau’s open page letter from “upstanding real estate” companies and his comments that Winooski has been “decades in the 65 dnl zone.” Wonder what makes him think that? It doesn’t look like that on the “maps” I’ve seen. They, for a few hundred jobs, subjecting buyers to homes 65 dnl zone based on their saying they keep their value?(no real estate noise disclosures in VT) Then again, doesn’t one of the realtors in the “open letter” own the Cascades in Winooski?? Correct me if I am wrong. I can’t help but thinking Burlington deserves whatever they get for supporting this insane basing in Vermont’s most densely populated area. The real estate companies also.

  • George Cross

    Well said, James. Burlingtonians worried about the ultimate cost of Burlington Telecom should be terrified at the ultimate cost of bringing the F-35 to BTV. But hey, maybe GBIC/LCRCC has plans for redeveloping all the vacant land after the City purchases and tears down 2944 residences in the 65dbl area. Urban renewal on steroids!

    • George,

      “2944 residences in the 65dbl area”

      At $200,000/house, including relocation costs, about $600 million to save a payroll of about $8 million.

      The 65 dBL is the maximum STEADY noise that is allowed for health reasons in urban areas. That is a lax standard. Elsewhere, such as in Europe, it is less than 50 dBL.

      The 65 dBL value has to be reduced by at least 3 – 6 dBL because the noise of an F-35 flying over is not steady.

      The F-35 noise is significantly above 65 dBL; it will wake up all, except the dead. See my above comment.