Council Resolution Requests Cancellation of F35

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Thursday April 19, 2018

At Monday’s meeting, the South Burlington City Council joined the cities of Burlington and Winooski in their request to the United States Air Force to cancel the 2019 basing of the F35, and to instead provide an aircraft whose noise will not result in any homes being categorized as unsuitable for residential use. The resolution recounts the history of South Burlington’s struggle with noise related to Vermont Air National Guard based fighter jets and concerns about increased noise and further loss of homes.

On March 26, the Burlington City Council approved a resolution in a 9-3 vote requesting the cancellation of the planned basing of the F35s and requested “low-noise-level equipment with a proven high safety record” alternative. The Winooski City Council has been against the F-35 basing since 2015 when they participated in a failed lawsuit against the Air Force.

The acquisition and demolition of 200 homes in the Chamberlin neighborhood as a result of aircraft noise has been a key issue for the council as the city grapples with issues related to the Burlington International Airport (BIA), which is owned by the City of Burlington. Members of previous city councils have not always been in agreement regarding the best way to address the issue, but in recent years, several resolutions have passed seeking to end the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) home demolition program, to find solutions to current noise issues, and to have a voice at the table as decisions that affect South Burlington are made.

The April 2016 resolution was approved 3:1, with Chittenden voting “nay.”

Brought forward by City Council Chair Helen Riehle, the resolution outlines facts about the city’s population and the number of homes the Air Force reported in their F35 operational environmental impact statement as possibly being affected. The document cites “that the noise of the F35 will place over 2,900 homes and over 6,660 people in an area unsuitable for residential use.” The resolution also notes key points from the 2012 letter the council sent to the Air Force regarding their concerns about noise levels around the Chamberlin School, the impacts of noise on people who need to work outside, and the potential negative ramifications on home values. The resolution also notes, “The Air Force stated the Vermont Air Guard would continue to have a flying mission regardless of whether or not the F-35A was based at the BIA.” In addition, the resolution suggests a cargo/transport aircraft such as the C-130 as an alternative to the F35 given its record of safety and lower noise level.

Prior to opening the floor for public comment, each of the councilors made statements on the resolution and their reasoning behind why they would vote one way or another. Riehle said she felt the resolution was supported by the people of South Burlington, referencing public input that was taken in 2016 when the city joined the federal lawsuit as amicus curiae, and that the document reflected the majority of the work of the council over the past few years on prior resolutions on the same topic. Tim Barritt said he supported the resolution since several others have been passed by this council regarding the issue of noise. “To me, it’s pretty simple,” Barritt said, “stop the destruction of homes by bringing in a mission that preserves the quality of housing. Remove the source of the noise.”

Meaghan Emery offered a comprehensive overview of the council’s work and actions since 2010 and noted that over that time she has become more convinced that the F35 is not acceptable for residential use. “Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right,” Emery said, referring to the 2016 decision of the Vermont Supreme Court to allow the F35 basing to continue.

Thomas Chittenden said that he would not be voting in favor of the resolution regardless of any amendments that were made over the course of the evening and called for a public hearing later in the week dedicated solely to this topic. He also called for changing the wording of the initial “whereas” statement to reflect that “South Burlington City Council” is calling for this action as opposed to the “City of South Burlington.” This change was not implemented as Riehle said it had been the practice in prior resolutions to say the “City of South Burlington.” Chittenden also proposed changing the wording of the final “whereas” to “replace” the F35 rather than “cancel” the basing. A motion made to this affect failed to get traction when it was made by Chittenden later in the evening.

The floor was then opened for public comments, with a limit of two minutes for each speaker. Commentary ranged from warnings around losing Guard jobs to preserving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations such as children.

Frank Cioffi, a South Burlington resident and president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC), voiced concern about the economy and job retention if the F35 is not based here. He agreed with Chittenden in amending the resolution language to reflect “replace” the F35 rather than “cancel,” although Cioffi added, “We have as much chance of getting a C130 as we do of getting a space shuttle.”

Lisa Ventriss, president of the Vermont Business Roundtable and South Burlington resident, endorsed Chittenden’s proposal and urged the council to take their time on the resolution and to hold a legitimate public hearing, saying, “Don’t rush to vote on this.”

Carmine Sargent, a 45-year resident of the Chamberlin neighborhood, voiced her support for the resolution and said she was speaking out for the residents of the neighborhood who will be most impacted by the noise. She noted that people often say, “Just move.” Sargent said it is not that easy, especially for someone like her who has completely modified her home to be handicapped accessible for her daughter. Ray Gonda, an outspoken opponent of the basing, said he felt it would be outrageous to hold another public hearing and that he continued to hear “falsehoods from the business community that night.” “It’s hogwash and flat out disingenuous to say the Vermont Air Guard will close,” he said.

Riehle also read a text she received from Air Guard Adjutant General Steven Cray saying that he was disappointed by the resolution, but not surprised. His message went on to say that these continued actions affect the morale of the Guard and that the resolution “in no way supports the Guard.”

As the vote was called, Chittenden added that he felt the issue should be put to the public in a clear manner and that his concerns were not just about this resolution. He urged the council to “do it the right way,” stating that he has heard concerns from residents regarding the direction the council has been taking recently around quick decisions on the library move, the Jaycee Dog Park closing, and real estate transactions. Riehle said the agenda is a public document and she always allows time for public comment on each item. Emery made the motion to approve the resolution, Barritt seconded, and the motion passed 3:1 with Chittenden voting “nay.”


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent