The Burlington City Council heard public comment Monday night on a controversial U.S. Air Force proposal to base F-35 fighter jets at the National Guard base at the Burlington International Airport.
The Air Force has issued its final Environmental Impact Statement and closed its public comment period in the review of potential sites to base the new F-35 fighter planes. The Burlington International Airport is a preferred location for that bed-down. Three cities surrounding the airport have been immersed in debate since the Air Force announced it was considering the local airport. In South Burlington, the airport's host city, councilors last month voted in favor of the F-35, reversing an earlier decision. The Winooski City Council voted in July to oppose the plan. The city of Burlington owns the airfield. City Council President Joan Shannon notes there is no current resolution being considered, although one was recently pulled and that may have motivated the comments.
While councilors heard from new people, Shannon says the topics were not. She feels most of the arguments are moot at this point, even if the council were to take action.
Stop the F-35 Coalition mounted the effort to get people to speak to the Burlington City Council against the plan. It offered 10 talking points in advance of the meeting including economic, legal, safety and health risks. Member Paul Fleckenstein says the city has the power to prevent the planes from being based at the airport.
Opponents far outnumbered proponents at the meeting. Green Ribbons for the F-35 is a group that supports the siting plan. Creator Nicole Citro says the important comments have been made to the U.S. Air Force, showing overwhelming support for the plan.
State Representative Kurt Wright is a former city councilor. He spoke in favor of the F-35's, noting that it’s important to the Vermont National Guard and the region.
Wright scoffs at opponents’ strategy to task the city, as the airport landlord, to ban the jets.
The Air Force has identified the Vermont Air Guard installation at Burlington as the preferred candidate for up to 24 of the aircraft and is expected to make a final decision later this fall.