Commentary

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including Peter Shumlin, Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch and Miro Weinberger, appear to be looking at out-of-date information and are overlooking the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of homes will be put at risk.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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