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Vermont: F-35 Base Plans Outrage Some as City Councils Waffle

by William Boardman, published


Despite overwhelming public turnout against having nuclear-capable F-35 stealth fighters based at Burlington Airport, city councils in the nearby cities of Burlington and Winooski failed to decide for or against the escalation and voted instead to seek more information. While anti-F-35 community organizing has the biggest presence, there are also pro-jet groups. But the cities choose to ignore both. This shows the power of community organizing as both councils previously favored the project.

The Air Force announced plans months ago to base its most advanced warplane in Burlington if and when and if it becomes operational.  It is currently about a decade behind schedule and 100 per cent over budget.  The issue gathered intensity here in April when the Air Force issued its environmental impact statement (EIS) that concluded that the new fighter jets would be four times louder than current jets, and that the noise increase would put 1,366 relatively quiet homes into a zone “incompatible with residential use.”

In the course of a three-hour meeting, the Burlington City Council first tried to accept the F-35 basing plan, but the motion failed 9-4 on Monday night, with two Democrats and two Republicans voting with the Air Force.  Then the council tried to reject the F-35 basing plan, and again the motion failed, this time by 8-5, with one Democrat, three Progressives, and one independent voting against the Air Force.

Finally the council voted unanimously for the motion by council president Joan Shannon, a Democrat, to seek further study of the proposal. Before voting, the council heard from dozens of citizens, all but three of whom spoke against having a locally-based F-35 squadron.  The three uniformed Air Force officers present did not speak.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, who had previously expressed full support for the F-35s, calling noise “a limited impact” and dismissing housing concerns, found himself repositioning his stance, commenting that “I do find it troubling we don’t have greater clarity on the impact on housing markets.”

Also on Monday night, in Winooski, which abuts the airport, the city council there also called for further study despite unanimous public opposition at the meeting, where no one spoke in favor of increased militarization.

Like Mayor Weinberger, Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien defended the council’s moderate position, noting that “We understand the statement is not strong enough for some and too strong for others.

The comment period for the Air Force EIS ended on June 20, leaving Burlington and Winooski as officially wishy-washy, whereas South Burlington city council voted in May to reject  the new, noisy fighter jets.  South Burlington also abuts the airport and the city council is led by retired Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco was formerly a Pentagon planner with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington.  She has written a 17-page analysis of the F-35 in Vermont   and published an op-ed in opposition to the plan.

Also Monday night, a citizen delivered a petition to the council in support of the F-35, saying there were 1,600 signatures from people in the region.  The council took no action on the petition.

Community organizing against the F-35s has been effective and has forced city councils to reconsider their previous support.

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