Burlington International Airport is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to fund a noise monitoring system following the arrival of the F-35 jets to the region last year.
The move follows requests from city leaders in Winooski, South Burlington and Burlington. The airport is owned by Burlington but located in South Burlington.
The F-35s arrived in Burlington last fall after a years-long debate, with community members expressing concerns about the increased noise of the F-35s compared to the F-16s that left the airport in April 2019.
An air traffic map released by the airport showed that significantly more people, particularly in Winooski and Williston, would be affected by higher noise levels due to the F-35s.
According to the map, the total number of dwelling units exposed to average noise levels of more than 65 decibels will rise from 819 in 2015 to an estimated 2,640 in 2023, with the total population affected rising from 1,900 in 2015 to 6,125 in 2023.
Homeowners affected by increased noise may be eligible for sound insulation or assistance selling their homes in a noise mitigation program offered by the Federal Aviation Administration. But questions remain about the source of the 10% local match funding, as the FAA covers 90% of the cost.
The sound maps have been based on computer modeling of projected noise more so than measurements of the noise itself, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said during his Monday press update.
The airport asked the FAA for 100% funding, a total of $1.68 million, to install 20 noise monitors in Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski, Weinberger said.
“We are hopeful there is a way for the federal government to make that whole investment and for none of the cost to fall to local communities,” Weinberger said.
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If the FAA rejects the grant proposal, the airport has asked the Vermont National Guard to design, implement and operate a noise monitoring system on its own, Weinberger said.
The sound monitoring program will help ensure that those exposed to the highest noise levels will have access to the available noise mitigation funding, Weinberger said.
“If there is something kind of wrong in the model, it could help us ensure that the people who are most impacted by the noise are actually receiving the help they should get,” he said. “And help us prioritize within those who are having the most impact, so they get the help first.”
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott said that she appreciated that airport staff had worked to find creative ways to fund the initiative.
“Our community, our residents in Winooski, really advocated for this monitoring alongside home insulation,” she said.
South Burlington city council president Helen Riehle said she fully supported asking the Guard and Department of Defense to step up if the FAA grants fall through.
“I’m hearing from Burlingtonians who are saying, wow, these jets really are loud,” she said. “I think it’s the military jets that are driving the sound, and I’m happy that we’re willing to push that envelope and engage in a conversation with them to see if that can happen.”
Weinberger said the cities are hoping to find alternative funding sources for the local match for the noise mitigation program.
Since the work involved in sound insulation is similar to weatherization, Weinberger said the city was hoping to use existing state weatherization funds as the local match.
“I am optimistic that we will be able to find a way to either eliminate or greatly mitigate any burden on the local municipalities or the airport that will be needed with respect to the local match,” he said.
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