The lawsuit, being brought in U.S. District Court, could yield more information on noise mitigation and safety issues that South Burlington has been unable to obtain through other means, according to city councilors who support joining the suit.
The current plaintiffs are the Stop the F-35 Coalition, six Chittenden County residents and the city of Winooski, which joined the suit last year after voters passed a nonbinding ballot referendum on the issue.
The South Burlington City Council voted Monday to continue discussing the matter, and a vote on a resolution to join the suit is expected next Monday.
Councilors Pat Nowak and Thomas Chittenden said at the meeting that they would like to find a way to get more information that doesn’t involve litigation. However, the city has to act quickly if it wants to join the suit, according to Helen Riehle, the chair of the city council. An important hearing is set for July 5.
There are enough votes on the five-member council to pass the resolution over Chittenden and Nowak’s objections, Riehle said, but waiting a week will give them an opportunity to present alternatives.
Riehle said she’s open to other options but the Air Force has not addressed the city’s concerns about the environmental and safety impacts of the F-35s, which are expected to arrive at the airport in South Burlington in the fall of 2019.
A revised environmental impact statement from the Pentagon left many unanswered questions, Riehle said, including how the town should develop an emergency preparedness plan for first responders in the event of an F-35 crash.
“Do we need an evacuation plan if there’s a crash?” Riehle asked, noting that hazardous materials are used in the F-35.
Questions remain about noise mitigation too, she said. The Air Force has said the Federal Aviation Administration will provide grants to mitigate noise from the airport as a whole, but Riehle said the city is unsure if those measures will be enough to address noise from the new fighter jets.
The council has discussed several options with the city’s attorney, Riehle said. Those include filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the plaintiffs, joining the suit as a plaintiff or even filing the city’s own lawsuit, Riehle said.
Simply filing a supporting brief would cost an estimated $7,500 and would not give South Burlington legal standing in the case. Joining the current suit would cost an estimated $13,000 and allow the city to be party to appeals.
Filing a separate lawsuit could cost as much as $45,000, Riehle said, and she doesn’t think that’s necessary, because a new suit might not be resolved prior to the F-35’s arrival.