Area Municipalities Discuss F-35 Beddown

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Thursday June 21, 2012

In an attempt to bring together council members and selectmen from a variety of Chittenden County municipalities, the South Burlington City Council hosted another meeting at City Hall Tuesday, June 13th regarding the possible beddown of the F-35 aircraft at Burlington International Airport.

The numbers were plentiful in public attendance; however, there were leadership representatives from just four Chittenden County municipalities: South Burlington, Burlington, Williston, and Winooski. Members of the Vermont Guard were also in attendance.

Williston Selectwoman Debbie Ingram and Burlington Councilors Paul Decelles, R-Ward 7, Sharon Bushor, I-Ward 1, and Ed Adrian, D-Ward 1 made it to the meeting. Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien was present as an audience member. SB Vice Chair Helen Riehle was unable to attend.

The SB City Council began by sharing its decision to vote 4-1 in opposition to the beddown of the F-35s. The Council provided the final 17-page draft of its basing response that was sent to the US Air Force with a step-by-step explanation of how it came to its decision. The document is open for public viewing on the city website. Afterward, the councilors spoke to how they formed their own individual viewpoints. Councilors Paul Engels, Sandra Dooley, and Rosanne Greco maintained their stance against the bed down.

“Whatever problems there are will be our problems,” Councilor Engels said, and Councilor Dooley was concerned that “it’s worse for Burlington, Vt. than anywhere else.” Listed as “preferred,” Burlington is one of six options the Air Force has for the F-35.

Greco, who changed her mind about the F-35 after reading the entire Draft EIS, said that the impact on the residents was one of the strongest factors in her decision to oppose.

“I saw what it did to the neighborhood,” she said. “You ought to drive around the streets around the airport and see what those boarded up houses look like. But it’s not just the boarded up houses—it’s the people living next to the boarded-up houses.”

Councilor Pam Mackenzie maintained her stance in favor of welcoming the aircraft.

“We have planes now,” she said. “We are replacing them with fewer planes. There will be less noise from the new planes...The pollution is lessened...and it gives us the opportunity to maintain and to grow an economic contributor to our [Chittenden County] area.”

Opinions of fellow city leaders were varied. Ingram, Adrian, and Decelles are still weighing the pros and cons, and Bushor said if she had to vote now, she would probably be in support of the beddown.

Regardless of stance, the municipalities agreed to share information as this future decision takes place.

One of the major points of discussion was the concern of the properties closest to the airport. The Burlington International Airport under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) buyout program has agreed to buy out 200 homes—no more no less. However, under baseline conditions, about 2,944 homes could potentially be deemed unsuitable for residential use since they will be affected by noise levels of 65 decibels or higher of Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) if the F-35s make their home in South Burlington. Homeowners wishing to sell have to disclose this information, decreasing their property value and making it difficult to find a good buyer or lessor. They would also not qualify for FHA, FAA, or VA loans.

Col. Clark responded that one can look on the FAA site and look at different cities such as Syracuse, NY or Chicago, Ill. and see that those properties fall in the 65 decibel line and are not up for sale. They worked with locals to help mitigate the noise and avoid demolition.

“We can work with the local residents, and we can mitigate noise, and we can operate as we have for 66 years in harmony around them,” he said. He also encouraged people to read Appendix C in the DEIS about home values.

This led to discussion of the contour maps that were provided. They do not specify local roads that will be affected by the F-35. Both South Burlington and Winooski requested that Nick Germanos, Air Force environmental program manager, provide the data points used to construct the contour lines for the public. Germanos has not provided the information, and homeowners still questioning whether they fall in or out of the contour line are not at ease.

VT Guard representatives said they aren’t the keepers of this information, the Air Force is. City Manager Sandy Miller responded with his concerns, “We don’t really understand why we can’t get data points upon which a public document has already been based,” he said. “Even if you’re not the keeper, you do live here. Help us get the data.” The Guard agreed it would do its best to assist in getting the information.

Adrian asked if they could run a test of the airplane in Burlington for the residents to hear for themselves. “It would go a long way to alleviate people’s concern,” he said.

Lt Col. Daniel Finnegan said that the time factor would be an issue, and that the aircraft is currently flying in only one or two locations. When they are more available, it would be possible, but they are still in testing and it would be an expense to bring them to Vermont immediately, he said.

Members of the public spoke mainly in opposition of the beddown of the F-35. Resident Janice Swartz thanked the SB City Council for taking the time to “stop and think.” Jean Szilvia of Winooski said the noise “hurts” and is concerned with the devaluing of her home. South Burlington resident, Rick Hubbard, said he lives in the 65 decibel contour, and even after installing sound insulation in his home, “conversation stops,” when the F-16s fly over his home. Hubbard is neither anti or pro-F-35, but he requested that we deal responsibly whatever comes our way.

The municipalities agreed to stay in good communication, share information, and cooperate with each other in this life-changing decision that will affect the Chittenden County area.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent