FAA offers few solutions for F-35 noise mitigation in South Burlington

Vermont Air National Guard

Members of Vermont Air National Guard attended Thursday’s meeting regarding airport noise. Photo by Emily Greenberg/VTDigger

SOUTH BURLINGTON — An official with the Federal Aviation Administration told residents here that there is little that can be done to mitigate noise from F-35 jet fighters taking off and landing at the Burlington International Airport.

The airport is located in the middle of a residential area. At a question and answer session Thursday night with officials from the FAA and the Vermont Air National Guard there was only one solution offered to concerns about noise pollution from the aircraft: Home buyouts.

“The best way to mitigate noise, at high noise levels, is to buy homes and remove them,” said Richard Doucette, the FAA’s New England Environmental Program manager. “But the city of South Burlington doesn’t want that. Usually it’s the opposite.”

South Burlington city councilors have suggested noise barriers as an alternative to home buyouts, but Doucette said that the odds of the FAA funding a noise-wall would be slim.

“I can tell you that in 15 years of doing this we’ve never built a noise barrier,” he said. “Sound will skip over the barrier unless the plane or home is right next to it. Theoretically, yes, we fund noise barriers, but there are very few of them, which shows how ineffective they are.”

According Doucette in order for a wall to be an effective at noise control it would need to be up to 60 feet tall.

The information session came on the heels of the South Burlington City Council’s passing of a resolution that called for a halt to the airport’s current home acquisition program as a form of noise mitigation, new noise exposure maps, and the city taking a role in future noise abatement planning. Although the airport is in South Burlington it is owned and operated by Burlington.

The airport currently has a $14.5 million grant to purchase 40 homes within a 73.3-decibel noise level, based on a noise-exposure map from 2015. There are 900 homes within the map’s 65-decibel noise level which are also eligible for noise mitigation efforts funded by the FAA.

The airport recently received a $450,000 grant from the FAA to explore alternatives to future home buyouts, which could mean new insulation and windows for those 900 homes.

Alternative noise mitigation efforts for those 900 homes, however, are contingent on the completion of the current round of buyouts.

The public meeting was the first of many community engagement sessions as the airport works with consulting firms over the next 12 to 18 months to come up with a replacement noise control plan, said Gene Richards, aviation director at the airport.

A process of data collection and public meetings will lead to a written policy, which could then be approved by the FAA.

The 2015 noise exposure maps, off which all noise mitigation efforts are based, used noise data from commercial airlines and military operations. The study does not take into account noise from F-35 military aircraft, which are anticipated to arrive at the airport within two years.

The overwhelming consensus from participants at the session was the need for new noise maps that take the F-35’s into consideration.

“I understand people want the F-35 on maps for mitigation,” Doucette said. “But we can’t do that until they are here, and even then it will take years to put a program in place.”

Another source of contention was the loss of tax revenue for South Burlington when homes are bought and demolished. Doucette said he hopes to see the city rezone those areas for commercial land use.

Councilor Meaghan Emory said she wants to see noise mitigation that allows those areas to remain in residential use, and that the FAA’s funding of home buyout and demolitions programs are inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“At this point I don’t think we have any plans to rezone,” she said. “We’re expecting a letter from the FAA with regard to the incorrect information that the airport has provided, regarding consistency with South Burlington’s land use plans.”

FAA, Burlington International Airport

Gene Richards, director of aviation at Burlington International Airport, left, and Richard Doucette from the FAA at a community engagement meeting for airport noise mitigation.

Emily Greenberg

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  • Louis Meyers, M.D.

    The amount of effort, disruption, and money expended to bring the F35’s here is staggering. At a fraction of the cost a new runway and facility could have been built in a less populated part of the state, one where a failure on takeoff or landing would be less likely to result in large loss of life.

  • John French

    The Burlington airport was built where it is because it was away from residence.Now the residence are complaining of the noise. Why did these people build or buy there homes increasingly closer to the airport?Like everything else in life,opportunity,most likely profit motivated.The time has come to cash out folks,take the money and run.What else did you expect when you built or bought your home next to an airport.

  • Bill Keogh

    Doucette also said it is not unusual for a host community, like So. Burlington to be in discord with the Airport. While such a situation is not the Vermont way, “it is what it is.” Most unfortunate.

    • Bruce S. Post

      Bill, good to see your posting, but I don’t understand the point you are making and how this is or is not related to “The Vermont Way.”

      • Bill Keogh

        Relations between the City of So. Burlington and the Airport are strained at best. Reconciliating minds need to hammer out those differences across the table. Stay tuned.

    • Eileen Andreoli

      Perhaps Doucette should be asked to clarify his remarks and determine if he is speaking with regards to commercial airports or joint-use airports? The situation in Burlington is that is a joint use airport where its military tenant has ambitious plans to greatly increase its presence. It’s highly doubtful that most commercial airport hosts have to deal with ever-increasing noise impact from extremely loud military aircraft and the over-reach of an organization that wants to inflict 400% more impact on the residential communities nearby. As Doucette mentioned, Burlington has become the highest consumer of FAA buyout grants in the Northeast. That should tell you that Burlington is going down the wrong and increasingly destructive path for its residents.

  • George Cross

    The facts are clear, the F-35 and an airport in the middle of a residential area are not compatible. In this case, Senators Leahy and Sanders, Representative Welch, the Burlington City Council and Mayor, at least a couple of Vermont Governors and the Vermont Legislature have repeatedly demonstrated that they side with the political/military/industrial complex over the hard working home owners who will be impacted by the F-35. Shameful!

    • Glenn Thompson

      How many airports are you aware of are not located in a residential area?

      • Bruce S. Post

        Well, I lived in North Dakota. Take a look at Grand Forks International Airport/Mark Andrews Field — named after a former boss of mine — on Google Earth. It seems that it is about 3 miles out from the western edge of Grand Forks. There is only a tiny neighborhood about one mile away. Of course, there always is Grand Forks Air Force Base, which seems to be a cozy 12 miles away from Grand Forks.

        Plus, the Post family recently flew into Oslo Airport, evidently named after Edvard Munch. Didn’t see any residential areas nearby, and those that were there are not nearly as close as the neighborhoods surrounding BTV. One of our daughters flew into Frankfort-Hahn Airport in Germany to join us on our recent trip. Take a look at that one, too, on Google Earth. A lot of open fields nearby. We also flew into Berlin Schonefeld, which seems to have some distance between it and major residential neighborhoods.

        I also remember way back to the days Dulles Airport was seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, D.C. sprawl has moved out that way, but as far as I know, the F-35 is not supposed to be based at Dulles.

        • Glenn Thompson

          Bruce, I’m well aware not every airport is located inside of residential areas, but those are the exception not the rule. Just fly commercially into any major airport and look out the window. What do you see? Mr. Cross did state

          “the F-35 and an airport in the middle of a residential area are not compatible.”

          Out here in Tucson, Davis-Monthan Airforce Base sits in the middle of a population center of over a million people, and flies out military aircraft constantly. Davis-Monthan may or may not get the F-35s. I would also encourage anyone to locate all the Airforce bases located in the country and pull up Goggle maps to see where they are in relationship to population centers! Mr. Cross’s comments on airport locations is not being realistic.

      • Eileen Andreoli

        “How many airports are you aware of are not located in a residential area?” Is the question regarding commercial airports, or…military bases?
        If the question is military bases, than the answer is close to NONE. That’s because military bases do not allow residential housing, or as it is termed, “encroachment”, of homes near their bases. When an area is transitioning to a military base, which is exactly what is being proposed for Vermont with the F35 basing, the result is just what we are experiencing now and where thousands more residential homes will be deemed “unsuitable for residential use”. The FAA will then recommend that they be bought out and destroyed. Is this REALLY the Vermont that we want to see? Hell, no! Time to get involved, get outraged, and fight this dismal future for out Vermont communities.

    • Liz Leyden

      Since when have The Powers That Be cared about that? The military gets whatever it wants, regardless of cost.

  • Peter Chick


    • Liz Leyden

      Got a room for rent?

    • Eileen Andreoli

      Who should move? The Air Guard, the Airport, or 6,600 Vermonters who will be impacted by the F35s? Should nearly 3,000 homes be purchase and demolished?

  • Eileen Andreoli

    “Move”, Peter Chick? That’s your answer? You previously commented on a story about sewage waste spills that, “There must be a solution to this problem.” Well, there IS a solution to the toxic noise pollution from the military aircraft, present and future, and it is to move the warplanes, not the hundreds of families who live here and their homes.

  • wendywilton

    The concern over noise may be moot. There’s a rumor in the armed forces circles that the F35 will be pulled from VT. And the jobs associated with it as well.

    • Eileen Andreoli

      People don’t get to keep spreading the same old lies about the Guard closing, or losing jobs, when the USAF has testified publicly and in federal court that even if the F35s do not come to Vermont, the VT Air Guard would still have a flying mission. No one should try to scare people that are defending their very homes and their neighbors from the F35 disaster with false rumors such as this.

  • Mary Mester

    the military complex is sucking our economy dry…when will we stop the lies and start supporting lives instead of the machine that is used for nothing but war mongering and supporting the banksters

  • Clayton Kip

    Unless you owned land there before the airport was built you can’t say much. We’ve had people complain about the airport in Bennington. Hey, you knew it was there, you knew planes landed and took off. Nothing has changed, deal with it. If it’s that loud well that’s the price you pay for freedoms and you get to watch America’s might every time one takes off.

  • Daniel Burks

    I’ve never viewed VT as a location or community deserving major DOD investment. This equipment and those posted to support the mission would be welcomed and far more appreciated at any number of other locations. Think anywhere in the south. If CAPs are really that dependent upon geographic location, Plattsburg or Maine would probably roll out a red carpet, and VTers could go back to writing their own foreign policy.

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