Eileen Andreoli: The F-35s in Vermont – the elephant in the room

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Eileen Andreoli, of Winooski, a member of

[D]id you see it? The State of Vermont’s official website now displays the banner, “Welcome to Vermont – Future Home of the F-35 Stealth Bomber/Fighter Jet!!!"

Yes, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch and all the way down to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger — all these progressive, pro-environmental, green-loving politicians — have heartily endorsed the virtues of the F-35 basing at the Burlington Airport. They are proud of the basing decision and can’t wait to announce it in their marketing campaigns. All new state promotional and marketing material will carry the new slogan.

The F-35 basing will be the first-ever basing of a newly operational warplane in the midst of our state’s most densely populated residential community. The crash risk from any new warplane in military history is the highest in the first few years of flights. The F-35s will arrive in Vermont in 2019 as immature planes. Despite the dangers and risks to Vermont’s residential populations, these politicians have declared it “an honor” to be chosen.

Why would they welcome the F-35s so forcefully? After all, the F-35s carry the loudest military jet engine ever produced. In fact, the United States Air Force (USAF) projects that the noise impact of the F-35s will be four times louder than the current F-16s based in Burlington. Because of their loud noise, these current F-16s are responsible for the purchase and demolition of 200 affordable homes around the airport.

As a result of the expected F-35 noise levels, it is projected that local Chittenden County property values will be depressed. The USAF states that over 6,600 people will be impacted, and nearly 3,000 homes in Burlington, Colchester, South Burlington, Williston and Winooski will be subjected to noise so loud as to be considered, “unsuitable for residential use.”

But, as the USAF attests, no new jobs would be created from the F-35 basing in Vermont. None. Zero.


Incredibly, out of all the other places that were studied for the F-35 basing, the USAF noted that only Burlington’s economy would suffer. In administrative records, the USAF states that there will be a “Positive effect for all locations EXCEPT BURLINGTON, where the potential decrease in property values due to increased noise is NOT expected to be overcome by the expected increase in positive economic impacts to the community” (emphasis is mine).

So, it’s clear that the F-35s will damage the region’s property values and economy. But that’s not all they will damage. There are 1,500 Chittenden County infants and children who live in the projected F-35 noise zone. The noise impact will be intense enough that half of those children may suffer cognitive learning damage.

As for the crash and safety risks from an immature warplane, the F-35s are largely made of military grade composites that can smolder and burn for days after a crash. The fumes and particles are toxic to humans and animals downwind, and soils near the site would be contaminated. An even more dangerous environmental toxin is its stealth coating. Extremely toxic when burned, it killed several Air Force personnel, and neurologically damaged others’ health permanently at a controlled burn site several years ago. Due to its highly classified nature, no local emergency first responders will receive information about the components of the coating, and will therefore not be prepared for this potentially fatal crash risk. The people on the ground will obviously be even less so. Of course, when a crash does occur, a National Defense Area (NDA) will be declared and the nearby communities will be evacuated. The area will be quarantined and people will not be allowed to return to their homes for days, and possibly for weeks.

After hearing all this, you might seriously question why Vermont’s elected officials would even consider supporting an environmental pollutant that will cause property devaluation, and impose such health and safety risk as the F-35s.

They all agree that the answer is “jobs.” But, as the USAF attests, no new jobs would be created from the F-35 basing in Vermont. None. Zero. Or, these politicians say they want to protect the Vermont Air National Guard jobs. Again, the USAF reveals that those jobs are not threatened. “If there is no F-35 an operational beddown at Burlington AGS, the current mission would continue.” Yet still, the politicians continue with their fictional “jobs” mantra. As if it was a magic wand that could disguise the theft of quality of life for thousands of residents, or protect us from the devaluation of our homes, health and safety.

Oh, about that new state website banner? I made it up. You’ll never see photos of F-35s over fields of contented cows, fall foliage, Lake Champlain or ski mountains in state promotional materials. For that would destroy the carefully crafted, magical and lucrative Vermont aura. It would damage the allure, and it’s seriously doubtful that it would be a great tourist draw to entice folks to visit Vermont so they can hear noise so intense that it damages young children’s brains.

You’ll simply never see that kind of truth in advertising. It would be acknowledging the F-35 elephant in the room.

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