By WILSON RING (The Associated Press)
MONTPELIER — Both supporters and opponents of a proposal to base F-35 fighter planes at the Burlington International Airport scrambled Friday to digest an 1,100-page revised draft environmental impact statement that was completed after some complained the original document used outdated census data.
All of the changes in the document released Friday had to do with population figures around the Burlington International Airport and other locations across the country where the Air Force is considering basing the planes, which will become the nation’s front-line fighter aircraft into the middle of the century.
The Air Force has already said Vermont is its preferred location to be the first Air National Guard base to host the planes. A final decision about which location will receive the planes that would be ready for war will be made later this year by the secretary of the Air Force.
The Air Force is considering two proposals to base either 18 or 24 of the aircraft at the South Burlington airport by 2020. But the proposal has generated fierce opposition from some who feel the F-35s, which are louder than the F-16s they would replace, are too noisy to fly above the densely populated areas around the airport.
The release of the report opens a 30-day public comment period.
After the first report came out last year many complained it used the 2000 census data to determine how many people living near the airport would be affected by the noisier F-35. One chart in the new report estimated about 2,808 people, or 1,219 households, would be exposed to noise levels of between 65 and 60 decibels. The 65-decibel level is about the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner running 3 feet away. The estimate is up from 2,684 people and 1,128 households under the previous report, a difference of 124 people, or 91 households.
South Burlington City Councilor Rosanne Greco, a retired Air Force officer and outspoken opponent of the plane, said she would review the revised study further.
“Kudos to the Air Force for taking our concerns seriously,” Greco said of the decision to revise the original document. “My major concern with this document is that this document will also be ignored by our senior decision makers. They pretty much ignored the last document. They ignored the people. They ignored the facts.”
The guard said bringing the planes to Vermont would guarantee more than 1,000 jobs and ensure the guard played an important role in the nation’s defense for decades to come.
“We are pleased the Air Force took the extra time to incorporate the latest census data along with other changes resulting from the public comment and other government agencies’ review,” said Brig. Gen. Richard Harris. “We remain confident in the transparent process and look forward to the secretary of the Air Force’s Record of Decision later this year.”
Bringing the planes to Vermont has the backing of Gov. Peter Shumlin and the entire congressional delegation.
“We continue to believe basing the plane in South Burlington will be good for the future of the Vermont Air Guard and for the state’s economy,” the delegation said in a statement. “We also believe the decision making process must be open and transparent and that the Air Force must take into consideration the community’s concerns.”