Written by Free Press Staff
Vermont’s congressional delegation, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger responded Tuesday afternoon to a series of questions about the F-35 and its possible basing at Burlington International Airport.
On June 3, following a “citizens’ hearing” the previous week that drew about 400 opponents of the F-35 to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, the Burlington Free Press sent a series of questions about the F-35 to Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Rep. Peter Welch, and Shumlin and Weinberger, who have not mounted public hearings themselves regarding the plane.
The politicians have strongly supported basing the F-35 at the airport, saying the new jets would bring an economic benefit to the region. They have not addressed concerns from opponents that noise from the planes will have a negative effect on property values or will result in more noise for those close to the airport.
Debate about the plane has been vigorous throughout the region, with nearly 1,000 people providing comment to the Air Force (65 percent of the feedback from Vermont running against the basing here) and some 6,500 voting in an unscientific poll on the Free Press website, 50 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. Business groups such as the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp. and community coalitions have touted the F-35’s benefits to Vermont and to the Guard, while other residents have aruged passionately against noise and other negative effects they associate with the plane.
The Air Force’s environmental study, initially released in March 2012, forecasts that the F-35s will have “maximum sound levels” up to four times louder than the F-16s and will expand the number of households and individuals in neighborhoods near the airport who will experience sound levels the FAA has determined to be unsuitable for residences.
The Free Press asked the Vermont political leaders who have supported the plane to explain the economic benefits, the source of their information about the importance of the new plane to the Vermont Air National Guard and to speak about their understanding of the capabilities of the plane. They were asked to respond individually.
The political leaders responded in a joint statement:
“Development of the F-35 is well underway. It will be a key component of the Air Force’s future, and of our national air defenses. It will undergo continued engineering and testing and refinement before deployment, in the year 2020 at the earliest, at any Air National Guard location. It is going to be used not just in the United States but in countries throughout the world. Because of the superb record of the Vermont Air National Guard and other factors, the Air Force has initially chosen the Vermont Air Guard as its basing preference to accomplish this vital national security role. The question now is not whether the plane should be built, but whether it ends up with the Vermont National Guard instead of in South Carolina or Florida. We believe it should be based in Vermont.
“Consistent with Vermont’s long military tradition, we are very proud of the role that the Vermont National Guard plays in our state and our nation. We do not want to see that role diminished. The Vermont National Guard is legitimately concerned that if the current aging fleet of F-16s is phased out and not replaced here by cutting-edge F-35s, the mission of the Guard could be significantly diminished and it could result in the loss of many hundreds of jobs and educational opportunities for Vermont Guard members.
“People living near the Burlington airport have raised legitimate concerns about noise and other environmental issues. We are confident that the Vermont National Guard will continue to be the good neighbor that it has been for many years and we look forward to working with all citizens to mitigate legitimate environmental issues.”