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Facing Limited Power, Councilors Still Seek Strong F-35 Resolution

  Prospects are bleak for a Burlington City Council resolution to ban the F-35 fighter jet from Burlington International Airport, after City Attorney Eileen Blackwood released a legal opinion yesterday asserting the city doesn’t have that power.

Councilor Vince Brennan, who has vocally opposed the F-35, drafted the resolution that would block the jet from the airport. The city council was set to discuss and vote on the measure at an Oct. 28 special meeting, but Blackwood’s report says it would be unenforceable.

“We’re still moving forward with the Oct. 28 meeting,” Brennan said. “I respect the city attorney, and [the report] may change how our resolution actually looks, but we’re still moving forward with a resolution.”

Blackwood’s report came after more than a month of debate over the city’s legal power to block the military from basing the new jet at the airport.

At a Sept. 4 event, Paul Fleckenstein of the Stop the F-35 Coalition said “as landlord to the Air Force and Vermont Air National Guard we are asking the city council to refuse to authorize the F-35 basing because of the severe damage and risk it will pose.”

Brennan said that Blackwood’s report will be important to consider as opposition figures work to draft a new resolution, “but certainly we feel like there’s still room for us as the landlord to have a say.”

Brennan, a Progressive, said the state’s Democratic leadership, including Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, has been biased about the F-35 from the beginning.

“I would just say that politics are playing a lot of this, and certainly Governor Shumlin has been heavily supporting this even in spite of all of the negative facts about the machine,” Brennan said. “I think that they’re worried about the next election more so than whether this machine is safe to fly in Burlington or not.”

Brennan suggested Weinberger may be bowing to political pressure from above in advocating for the jet.

“It can go both ways,” he said. “The Congressional delegation is primarily Democrats, and he’s a Democrat, so they may be putting pressure that way, and he’s also looking to fall in line in that sense.”

Weinberger said he supports the F-35 solely on the merits of the jet, and his stance has nothing to do with politics.

"There's really one reason that I support the F-35 coming to Burlington, Weinberger said in an interview. “And that reason is that I believe that it's the right thing for Vermont and the right thing for Burlington. I support the F-35 because I support the guard and their local, state and federal mission. I support the F-35 because I know the dramatic economic impact the guard has on the airport, which is owned by the city of Burlington, and the region's economy, and I support the F-35 because of the 1,100 families that are members in one form or another of the air guard and their impact on this community."

Weinberger said blocking or even delaying the basing would put Burlington at great economic risk. He referred to Plattsburgh, N.Y. as “very direct nearby evidence that base closures happen, and they have a dramatic impact, economically, on the region.”

Weinberger said blocking the F-35 would put Burlington at risk for an economic slowdown.

“If we say no to this, we do not know what the future holds,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s a risk we should take.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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