Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer in South Burlington
The three candidates for adjutant general will testify and answer questions before the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs on Thursday. But I was floored to read an email from the chair of that House committee, Helen Head of South Burlington. The committee came up with only the softest of softball questions regarding the F-35: “We ask each applicant how he would approach the planning needed.”
Not me saying this: The Air Force itself says, on page BR4-30 of its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), that 24 of the F-35 jets based in South Burlington will cause 2,944 homes to be within the 65 dB DNL (24-hour Day and Night average noise Level). The EIS says on page C-14 that areas exposed to 65 dB DNL are “generally not considered suitable for residential use.”
This on top of the 120 affordable homes near the airport in South Burlington that have already been demolished or are now standing vacant and scheduled for demolition. (See VPR report: “Airport Buyout Program Empties South Burlington Neighborhood,” by Kirk Carapezza.) The zoning permits on file in the South Burlington town hall all state only one reason for these demolitions: noise above 65 dB DNL. The Air Force EIS states on page BR4-21 that “Departures of F-16 aircraft … dominate the DNL contours. … The contribution of civilian aircraft [to noise] is negligible compared to the military aircraft contribution.”
Putting 2,944 homes in that noise zone is no matter for mere planning. It must be stopped before it happens. Again, not me saying that: A memo put out by no less than the Vermont Air National Guard itself requires that it be stopped. The Vermont Air National Guard Memorandum of Understanding, dated 13 April, 2012, precludes putting 2,944 homes in a zone “not considered suitable for residential use.” Here is what that Vermont Air Guard memo says:
a. SCOPE. The 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard is committed to the protection of human health and the environment as it accomplishes its stated mission:
b. “To maintain the highest caliber of trained personnel and equipment to accomplish the USAF mission of ‘Fly, Fight, and Win.’ Provide to the State of Vermont trained and equipped personnel to protect life and property, preserve the peace, order and public safety. Add value to our communities by involvement in local and state programs.”
House committee members should all be pounding the table and demanding that each of the candidates step forward and tell the committee that he will do his best to uphold the mission of the Vermont Air National Guard, and protect, rather than destroy thousands of affordable homes in Winooski, Burlington, Williston and South Burlington, add value to our communities, and not bring in an aircraft that puts any more homes in a noise zone that is “unsuitable for residential use.” We have already lost 120 affordable homes in South Burlington because of F-16 noise. Isn’t that enough? Why is this committee asking one softball question about an “approach to planning” when 2,944 more affordable homes are on the block if the F-35 is based here?
The Air Force EIS says on page BR4-18 that the maximum sound level heard by people on the ground below when the F-35 takes off is 115 dB when the plane reaches 1000 feet above ground level. That is 21 dB higher than the maximum sound level stated for the F-16 under the identical conditions. According to the Air Force EIS on pages C6 and C9, that 21 dB difference means that the F-35 is more than four times louder than the F-16. This explains why so many more homes will be in the “unsuitable for residential use” noise zone with the F-35.
House committee members should all be pounding the table and demanding that each of the candidates step forward and tell the committee that he will do his best to uphold the mission of the Vermont Air National Guard, and protect, rather than destroy thousands of affordable homes in Winooski, Burlington, Williston and South Burlington, add value to our communities, and not bring in an aircraft that puts any more homes in a noise zone that is “unsuitable for residential use.”
Our Vermont governor visited Valparaiso and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in December. The mayor of Valparaiso, John Arnold, emphasized to a reporter for the Burlington Free Press that although he “supports the Air Force and the F-35 program,” he nevertheless took the Air Force to court because of F-35 noise. Mayor Arnold won a settlement of that lawsuit under which the Air Force agreed that for F-35 flights it would not use the Eglin runway that aims at the western edge of Valparaiso, one mile from the end of that runway, except in an emergency.
F-35 jets are based at Eglin Air Force Base, so the mayor of Valparaiso knows firsthand how loud they are and the damage they would have caused his city. According to the Burlington Free Press article, Valparaiso’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pensacola termed the Air Force noise modeling predictions “prohibitively severe” and said the F-35 would have “a devastating impact” on the small town of Valparaiso.
Winooski is also one mile away from the end of our runway. So is Williston. In fact the runway at our airport aims directly at the center of Winooski.
Couldn’t the committee ask the candidates something along the lines, “if the Air Force already agreed it would not use the Eglin Air Force Base runway that aims toward the western edge of Valparaiso, can you tell us why you disagree with the Air Force on this danger and think
it’s OK to hit Winooski and Williston with what Valparaiso called ‘a devastating impact’ from F-35 jets taking off toward them, an impact the Air Force already agreed Valparaiso will completely avoid under the settlement of its lawsuit?”
South Burlington is now looking at a totally trashed neighborhood of affordable homes near the airport from F-16 noise. The committee should gently ask the candidates to find another mission for the Vermont Air National Guard that avoids any further violation of the commitment in the Air National Guard’s own memorandum to protect “human health and the environment,” “protect life and property,” and “add value to our communities.”