Thursday May 03, 2018
In response to recent resolutions passed by the cities of South Burlington, Burlington and Winooski against the basing of the F35, the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC), along with business and economic leaders, reiterated strong support of the Vermont Air National Guard, its mission, and the F35 basing in South Burlington, at a news conference held at the Burlington International Airport on Tuesday, April 24.
Frank Cioffi, president of GBIC, a non-profit economic development corporation serving Chittenden County, stressed the overall importance of the basing of the F35 to the success of the economy, both regionally and statewide.
“Essentially, what the city of Winooski, and more so the city of South Burlington asked for, is a base closure, by their resolutions last week…whether they intended to or not, that is essentially what they asked for. VT Air Guard has been very clear there is no other mission for the Vermont Air National Guard and the fighter wing other than the basing of the F35,” Cioffi said.
He added that the value of 1000 Guard jobs can’t be underestimated. “What we do in economic development is to grow jobs, but job number one is to retain jobs,” he said.
Lisa Ventriss, president of Vermont Business Roundtable, spoke about the contributions the Guard makes to the airport. “The airport is a massive regional benefit to our economy, but it also receives a massive economic benefit in the form of capital expenditures that the Air Guard makes directly in support of safety and security in terms of personnel and equipment to address fire and safety issues here at the airport,” she said. “Those contributions that the Air Guard makes total $2.6M to the people of this region.”
President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce Betsy Bishop said, “This is much more than just a Burlington or South Burlington issue or a Chittenden County issue. It is a statewide issue.” She referred to the role the airport serves in supporting the commerce needs of Vermont’s business travelers and the tourist economy, and noted the importance of the continued economic vitality of aerospace and aviation businesses in Vermont.
Joan Goldstein, Vermont’s Commissioner of Economic Development, stressed the importance of continuing to develop and enhance the economic engines of the airport and the Guard, saying the basing of the F35 brings recognition and a level of relevancy to the area. Goldstein said, “We’ve heard only the negative lately, from neighboring towns, but I’m not sure they recognize just how impactful the basing of the F35 would be here to Vermont, both in terms of retention as well as job creation and creating a cluster of activity around it. I think I speak not just for myself but for the state, including the Governor, that we are honored and privileged and feel proud that the Air Force has given us that vote of confidence.”
Win Smith, CEO of Sugarbush Resort stressed that the economy of the state, from businesses like gas stations and restaurants to ski areas and beyond, is tied to the success of the airport, noting that for the airport to remain viable it must be supported by a viable Guard.
Jack Russell of Century 21 Jack Associates spoke about his strong support of the men and women of the Guard and their families. “We miss the boat by not talking about the human element,” he said. “As an employer, those are the people I want to employ, those are the people I hope will stay here. You’re not just taking away the jobs, you are taking the quality of our community away from Vermont.”
Cioffi, Russell, Smith and Ventriss serve as honorary commanders of the Vermont Air National Guard.
The news conference was held to challenge the resolutions, which request the U.S. Air Force to replace the 2019 basing of the F35 with a safe and quiet aircraft. The South Burlington resolution recounts the history of the city’s struggle with aircraft noise, the related loss of 200 affordable homes and the anticipation of increased noise and further loss of homes due to F35 noise, among other concerns. It requests the Air Force to:
1. Cancel the basing of the F35 at the Vermont Air National Guard Station in Burlington, Vermont and
2. Instead provide an aircraft that is compatible with a densely populated residential area—an aircraft that has a proven high safety record and an aircraft whose noise will not result in any homes being in the noise zone categorized for residential use.
Helen Riehle, chair of South Burlington City Council said, “I believe GBIC is again overstating the potential impact. Their position is contrary to numerous statements by the Air Force that Burlington will always have a flying mission. It is also disappointing for the business community to dismiss the continued loss of crucial affordable housing and its importance to economic development.”
The resolution passed on April 16 by the South Burlington City Council set off a new round of debate in the city. Residents gathered at City Hall on the night the resolution was brought forth; some offered their support, others were present to register disapproval. With four members at the table, the resolution was passed in a 3-1 vote, with Councilor Tom Chittenden voting against. The council was criticized for its timing, as the resolution was put on the agenda on the same night as the council formally honored the service of former City Councilor Pat Nowak, who died March 31. Nowak’s daughter, Alison Cossette, addressed the council saying that the timing of the F35 resolution on that night’s agenda was disrespectful and disingenuous, noting that it went against everything her mother believed in and had fought for during her time serving the city. Cossette said her mother, who was an ardent supporter of the mission of the Air Guard and the basing of the F35, would have wanted a public vote on the decision. Councilors acknowledged the timing was difficult and that they held Nowak in the highest respect.
South Burlington’s City Council will return to five members with the May 7 appointment of Dave Kaufman to fill the vacancy left by Nowak.
Undoubtedly, the F35 conversation will continue.