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Sides Still Split On Basing F-35 In Vermont

AP/U.S. Air Force, Samuel King Jr.

The U.S. Air Force released its revised draft of the F-35 Environmental Impact Statement on Friday. And opponents and proponents of basing the fighter jets in Vermont have now had several days to review it.

The report has been updated to use 2010 census figures for the area surrounding Burlington International Airport.

At over 1,100 pages, the updated Environmental Impact Statement that grades air bases vying to serve as facilities for the F-35 is not light reading.

But both supporters and opponents of the Vermont Air National Guard’s application to house the fighter jets have now spent countless hours perusing the major plot points of the document.

And in the end, both sides have come to different conclusions.

One of the main sticking points remains the impact that noise from the F-35s will have on local residents.

Roseanne Greco is a retired Air Force Colonel and current City Council member in South Burlington.

Greco says the effect on those living within the 65 decibel noise zone near the airport is the key reason she opposes the F-35 being based here. “Using the 2010 census data, it comes to 7,719 individuals that would now find themselves in the noise zone deemed unsuitable for residential use," Greco explains.

That figure is based on the scenario that has 24 F-35s stationed in Burlington. And it represents an increase of roughly 3,000 individuals who would be living in the noise zone.

Brigadier General Richard Harris, who is the assistant adjutant general for the Vermont Air National Guard, says ‘mitigation techniques’ could lessen the noise impact.

“The overall impact will be similar to what we’ve seen over the last 25 years flying the F-16 as far as noise," he notes.

Harris says noise levels will be kept down because the new planes will not need to take off in ‘afterburner mode’, which is a louder.

Both sides also disagree on the economic impact that failure to land the F-35s can mean to the area.

Harris says the F-35 mission is vital to the Vermont Air National Guard’s future. “There’s nothing hanging out there for us to do. This is the best match for us. We’ve been doing it for over 60 years. It keeps us there, like General Cray said, for the long term."

Harris says not having another mission in line puts the 1,100 Air National Guard jobs, 400 of which are fulltime, in jeopardy.

Greco contends that the F-16s currently based in Burlington will have a longer life, based on an Air Force proposal to upgrade that plane, and because of delays in F-35 production.

She says, "The Guard is in no danger of going away in the near future, because the F-16 is going to be flying for a long time.”

According to the Air Force Times, the upgrade to the country’s one-thousand F-16s would add eight to ten years to the lives of those jets.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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