Council Says ‘No’ to F35s

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Thursday May 24, 2012

SB residents and residents from neighboring cities milled into City Hall Monday night with one thing on their minds: what conclusion will the City Council come to regarding the possible basing of F-35s at the Burlington International Airport?

Among the interested people, City staff, and the City Council, there were Vermont National Guard officials and Airport personnel who had been invited by the Council to provide additional information as needed.

The VT National Guard offered a visual of commercial flights that occur daily throughout the country, and showed Burlington as one of the least congested areas for air traffic. As noted in the public hearing on May 14 at SB High School, Burlington is one of six options that the Air Force is considering. Burlington AGS and Hill AFB in Utah are the most desirable locations. The sites being considered were ranked on five criteria: mission, costs, capacity, military judgment, and the environment.

The U.S. Air Force had compiled a thorough examination of factors for communities to consider: the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The statement offers assessment of the following categories: airspace management, noise, air quality, safety, soils and water, terrestrial communities, wetlands, threatened and endangered species, cultural and traditional resources, land use, socioeconomics, environmental justice, community facilities and public services, ground traffic and transportation, and hazardous materials and waste.

The EIS has raised numerous questions, some of which create a domino effect. For those against the beddown program, the concerns are mostly rooted in noise which could affect the quality of life, real estate value, and schools, etc.

The AirForce estimated that the F16 would take off using afterburners only 25% of the time.  Because a second fuel tank was added, the F16 is using afterburner for takeoffs 90% of the time.

Councilor Sandy Dooley asked if the Air Force could provide information about how other neighborhoods and schools accommodated for noise. VTANG Col. Joel Clark explained that an ad hoc committee with the airport is being formed to discuss different options to minimize the noise. The committee could conduct a study based on the history of how other neighborhoods handled the situation and could provide results in about a week.

Council Chair Rosanne Greco had more than a few questions to pitch to the officials. She had read all three volumes of the 800-plus page statement, and approached the subject objectively, regardless of her 23 years of experience with the Air Force.

“I think this [the EIS] tells us it’s a bad idea,” Greco said as she patted her hand on the printed statement.

Safety and the environmental aspects almost trump the noise concerns that most people in opposition have raised, she said. The Air Force has based much of its estimates—including the noise level estimates—not on F-35s, but on the current configuration of the F-22s. The F-35s are still new and need experience; the mishap rate (crashes) occur more frequently with new aircraft than they do older aircraft.

“The F-22 is in trouble...and before that the F-16 was in trouble when it was first introduced,” said Greco. “Most new planes get in trouble when they’re first introduced. I don’t want to get in trouble at the end of a runway in SB.”

Future decisions about fossil fuels, water, and the impact on wildlife were among other concerns that  were raised.

Residents were invited to speak provided they had new information to share. In general, residents are concerned that when F35s arrive and the 65 DNL contour line expands, property values will drop dramatically, making homes unsellable and diminish the quality of life.

Deputy City Manager Bob Rusten took a count of those who were in favor of, against, or undecided about the program. The majority of residents were opposed—28, all SB residents, 24 of whom live in neighborhoods most deeply affected.  Eleven attendees were in favor, eight of whom were SB residents. Those in favor spoke to the economic vitality the F-35s would bring to the community and that residents will adjust.

In response to a possible negative effect on Vermont’s economy if the F35s were not based at BIA, Juliet Buck, a resident active on the issue, said that officials need to “put on their big boy pants” and get the money elsewhere.

The “airport was here first,” and would continue to grow, Peter Taylor of Mayfair Park noted. SB resident Jeff Nicholson said that people are comparing “apples and oranges,” and that residents should see this in a positive light.

After much discussion, the Council voted 4-1 in opposition of the beddown of F-35s in Burlington, with Councilor Pam Mackenzie not in agreement.

While it is not clear what affect their position will have on the final outcome, the Council intends to be thorough and specific in developing their response which they have assured residents will be postmarked, as required, by the newly extended deadline of June 20.

Written comments are being accepted by Mr. Nicholas Germanos, HQ ACC/A7PS, 129 Andrews St., Suite 332, Langley AFB, VA 23665-2769.

SOURCE: Miranda C. Jonswold, Correspondent