Lawsuit Filed by Residents and Coalition

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Thursday July 17, 2014

Monday, June 30, opponents of basing F-35A fighter jets in Burlington filed a lawsuit against Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, a legal reminder that the debate is far from over.
The lawsuit comes nearly seven months after the Dec. 2, 2013 decision and Dec. 3 announcement that 18 F-35A fighter jets will be based in South Burlington starting in 2020. The Vermont Air National Guard was among the six finalists under consideration to receive the jets.

The document challenges that basing F-35 fighter jets in Burlington would be a violation of Federal law, namely, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The plaintiffs cite both the Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement, which states that the jets will produce noise levels exceeding 65 db DNL for thousands of residents; According the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation standards, levels exceeding 65 db DNL are deemed incompatible with residential use. 

The plaintiffs’ listed concerns include decreased property values, health risks, effects on historic properties, and the “low-probability but catastrophic consequences” in the event of a crash.  In recent news, an F-35 jet caught fire on June 23 while trying to take off at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Subsequently, the Department of Defense grounded its entire fleet of F-35s pending further investigation of the issue.

Bristol-based lawyer James Dumont represents the eight listed parties in the lawsuit: seven residents from South Burlington and Winooski, as well as the Stop the F-35 Coalition. The parties sued the Air Force on eight counts, as listed below:

Count 1 – Failure to Adequately Address Mitigation under NEPA

Count 2 – Failure to Address Conflict with State and Local Law under NEPA

Count 3 – Failure to Address Socioeconomic Impacts Under NEPA

Count 4 – Failure to Identify and Evaluate Harm to Historic Properties Under NEPA

Count 5 – Failure to Consider the Current Management Practice of Discontinuing the Vintage  of F-16 Jets Located at BIA as the No-Action Alternative or a Reasonable Alternative  under NEPA

Count 6 – Failure to Consider the Low-Probability Catastrophic Impacts of Exposure of  the Public to the Extraordinarily Toxic Particulates and Fumes of Burning Carbon  Fiber and Stealth Coatings under NEPA

Count 7 – Adoption of the Mitigation Report Without Notice to the Public as Required by NEPA

Count 8 – Violation of NHPA

While the lawsuit awaits a response from the defendant, the City of South Burlington is working on strengthening the relationship between the Burlington International Airport and the residents in the Chamberlin neighborhood/airport area via a long-term strategy.  South Burlington received two planning grants to go through with the project; the city received $19,000 from Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development through the Municipal Planning Grant Program ($19,000), and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission awarded the city $136,500 earlier this month.

SOURCE:  Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent