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New Tactic To Restrict F-35 Gets City Attorney Approval

F-35 opposition attorney Jim Dumont presented a new legal strategy that he says will allow Burlington's city council to ban the F-35 from Burlington International Airport.
Taylor Dobbs

A new proposal by Progressives on Burlington’s city council could effectively block the F-35, opponents say.

The resolution, crafted by Councilor Vince Brennan with input from F-35 opposition attorney Jim Dumont and City Attorney Eileen Blackwood, calls on Burlington International Airport director Gene Richards to develop noise and safety standards for the airport.

The resolution (seen here with Blackwood's markups, which Brennan said he had no problems with) says the new standards must establish that “except for grandfathered uses, no commercial or government airplane using the airport shall have noise impacts from its routine use as measured by the federally recognized DNL noise impact measurement method that significantly exceed present noise levels at the airport. Including any significant expansion of the land area or number of residences within the 65 db or 75 db DNL day-night averages.”

In a report last week, City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said the city is bound by agreements that say it cannot form policies that discriminate against any single type of aircraft.

The opposition’s answer was to take aim not at the F-35, but at its attributes. The Air Force has acknowledged that the stealth fighter jet is significantly louder than the F-16s currently operating at the airport. So the resolution doesn’t ban the F-35, but it does ban the sound levels the jet produces.

‘We’re not discriminating,” Brennan said. “That’s the big difference: We’re not discriminating against one particular plane in our resolution. We’re actually looking at the health and safety aspects of all planes now, and I think that’s the big difference from last week to this week.”

Brennan said the new resolution addresses the real problems opponents have had with the F-35 all along – crash rate and noise – even without naming the jet.

“What we’re asking for now is to have any plane that’s coming to the Burlington airport have a [crash] rate that’s comparable to the F-16s when they actually came here,” Brennan said.

Blackwood, Burlington’s city attorney, is staying out of the politics of the F-35 debate. She said her job is to make sure the city is acting within legal boundaries.

“I’m really looking at whether or not their resolution is appropriate from a legal standpoint,” Blackwood said. “In other words, is the city taking some kind of position that it can or can’t take or that has some kind of legal significance that harms the airport? So I don’t know the details about the F-35 and whether it would or it would not be blocked.”

After reviewing the language, Blackwood said "I don't see any legal impediment for them to pass that."

Brennan and other opposition figures are sure the standards that would emerge from the resolution would block the jet.

Gene Richards, director of aviation for Burlington International Airport, was hesitant to comment on actions airport administrators would take because the final version of the resolution hasn’t been approved by city council yet. He did say the airport will do “exactly what we’re told” to do by the city council.

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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