Vermonters provided the Air Force with the most public input numbers regarding the possible beddown of the F-35 fighter jets in the Burlington area.

Soaring Debates of the F-35

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Thursday June 20, 2013

The Air Force has a big decision to make in October. Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, Representative Peter Welch, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, the Green Ribbons for the F-35 group, and citizen supporters are hoping for the F-35, and those concerned about property devaluation, noise, and safety are wishing for clear skies. With this big decision being made for Vermonters in just a few months, there have been many conversations surrounding the next generation fighter jets proposed for the Burlington area.

The U.S. Air Force’s recent statement about public comment is just one point of debate. Undoubtedly, Vermonters have shown a high level of activism in response to the F-35; the Air Force received 934 written comments from the public nationwide, and 97 percent of them--913 comments--came from Vermont. But what really has Vermonters talking is the public comment percentages of support and opposition outlined in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The revised Draft EIS shows 80 percent of the public comments received by the Air Force expressed support of the basing. The remaining 20 percent were said to be in opposition. However, after Nicholas Germanos--the Air Force civilian project manager--reviewed the statistics, the numbers have changed dramatically; the revised analysis indicates that 65 percent of the comments oppose the basing and 35 percent are in support. Those in opposition to the F-35 raise an eyebrow, but those in support point to the fact that one petition in support with 11,000 signatures only counted as one comment. 

Per the Freedom of Information Act request of Bristol Attorney James Dumont--representative of Stop the F-35 Coalition--to release 205 sheets of F-35 scoring data, the Pentagon responded by sending paperwork. The scoring sheets were blank. However, South Burlington City Councilor and retired US Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco did receive a complete Burlington scoring sheet with noted points given to the area due to low development. Dumont filed an appeal in the U.S. District Court in Burlington, arguing all information should be available to the public under FOIA. A fair comparison should be able to be assessed, Dumont said. 

The information would have been an interesting addition if it was available prior to the May 30 Citizen’s Hearing that was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church located on the top of Church Street in Burlington. A number of opponents spoke of the potential impacts of the F-35 basing including Aeronautical Engineer (F-16 and A-10 jets) Pierre Sprey, Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Ben Cohen, Rosanne Greco, Rabbi Joshua Chasan, South Burlington Realtor Chris Hurd, and South Burlington resident Carmine Sargent.

“I felt like my little area of the world would become a little Detroit,” Sargent said of her neighborhood as people gradually moved away. “I was feeling like I had become a bystander of my own life...I want to be part of the process of what happens to my neighbors and what happens to me.”    

Last year the South Burlington City Council voted 4-1 to officially oppose the basing of the F-35 here.  The current Council has not yet weighed in on the results of the new Draft EIS, and they haven’t taken a position on the F-35 basing. However, a public hearing will be held Monday, July 8, 6:00 p.m., at the regularly scheduled city council meeting. 

Those in opposition also include 16 members of the clergy that have written letters to the congressional delegation as well as Gov. Peter Shumlin and the mayors of Burlington and Winooski insisting on slowing down the process of the F-35 basing and  urging an open dialogue.  

The congressional delegation stands firmly together in their support for the basing, stating that in addition to across the board economic impact, the mission of the Vermont National Guard is at risk if the aging F-16 fleet is not replaced by the F-35s.   
Additional Pro-F-35 opinions have made their way into recent discussions.  Ernie Pomerleau added his voice to the discussion in terms of real estate, in a letter that was released to media last week. The economic landscape will certainly thrive in the F-35s presence, and the housing market will do just fine, Pomerleau wrote.

“It is important that Vermonters have facts on this issue and confidence that real estate values are holding true according to normal market influences and remain a solid investment,” he wrote.

 “If the discussion is somehow taken off-track by unsubstantiated fear, area residents and Vermonters as a whole will suffer. Vermonters are smarter than that.”

If the final decision results in the F-35 jets coming to South Burlington, it will be at least another five years for their arrival. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: the decision--and the outcome--will not come easily.


SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent