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F-35 Opponents Want Burlington To Bar Plane From Airport

VPR/Steve Zind

Unlike neighboring South Burlington and Winooski, the Burlington City Council has never taken a position on the proposal by the Air Force to base F-35’s at the Vermont Air Guard facility at Burlington Airport.

Now the plan’s opponents want Burlington to do something the other communities are unable to do.

“As landlord to the Air Force and the Vermont Air National Guard we are asking the city council to refuse to authorize the F-35 basing because of the severe damage and the risk it will pose,” said Paul Fleckenstein of the Stop the F-35 Coalition, speaking at an event held in downtown Burlington to announce their plan.

In calling for the city council to block the F-35, opponents cited a list of concerns including noise and health effects, impact on property values and the danger of crashes.  

They also said that as the airport’s landlord the city might be liable for a decline in property values in as a result of the noise created by the jet in nearby communities.

Two Burlington City Council members joined opponents to announce they’ll introduce a resolution at the October 7th council meeting calling on the city to use it’s authority as the owner of the airport to bar the F-35.   They argue that language that would essentially prevent the Air Force from basing F-35s in Burlington could be inserted in a pending joint use agreement.

According to the Air Force environmental impact statement, Winooski and South Burlington will be far more affected by the F-35s noise than Burlington.  But Burlington council member Vince Brennan says he hopes his fellow councilors will see themselves as part of larger community when they vote on the resolution.

“It’s a strange situation where the impact, direct impact, is not with the citizens of Burlington.  It is with our community as a whole.  I think there is enough open-mindedness to recognize that on the city council,” Brennan said.

City councilor Rachel Siegel says the body has a different makeup than in the past, but it’s unclear whether there’s enough support for the F-35 resolution.

“I’m unsure, to be totally be frank,” Siegel said. “I’m going to work my tail off to try to get there. It’s going to be a lot of work I believe because a lot of them follow the state leadership and our administration at the city level who are proponents of basing them here for God knows why.”

Siegel says the Burlington city attorney is looking into questions both about the city’s liability and the whether the city has the power to bar the F-35s from the airport.

For his part, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says he continues to support bringing the F-35 to the airport, but he also wants more information on the liability question.

“There are essentially some new issues that are being raised there that I appreciate being raised and I think should be fully vetted,” Weinberger said. “I’ve directed the city attorney to fully evaluate the claims that are being suggested. From what I know at this point it seems very unlikely to me that there really is a significant new liability issue for the city to be concerned about.”

The Air Force considers the Vermont Air National Guard base a preferred location for the F-35s and is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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