National Guard officials and Senator Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday that the U.S. Air Force will base 18 F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont air guard facility. Opponents plan to continue their efforts to stop the plane from coming to Vermont. Supporters, ecstatic with the selection, say it’s time to move forward.
The USAF made the official announcement Tuesday that 16 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets would bed down at the Vermont National Guard Base at the Burlington International Airport. The announcement had been anticipated, and expected, for weeks. While he was not surprised that Burlington was selected, opponent and member of the Stop the F-35 Coalition Jimmy Leas rails over the announcement.
"We knew that the fix was in for facing the F-35 in Vermont because Senator Leahy, the most senior senator in the senate wants it and he has a lot of influence over the air force budget, forced it on them," says Leas." "And it's not even good for the Vermont Air National Guard. This is a weapon of mass civilian destruction and it should be stopped."
Fellow F-35 opponent attorney James Dumont says the siting selection means years of litigation in state and federal courts.
"The lawsuit that has been filed in state court focuses on the fact that the Vermont Air National Guard is a state agency and they have to comply with state environmental law which they have not done," says Dumont. "The suit that will be filed will be a suit under federal law under the Nation Environmental Policy Act that will ask a federal judge to set aside the environmental impact statement that the Air Force prepared and start over. And if the F-35 comes to the Burlington airport those hundreds of people I represent will be among the many that eventually bring suit for damage to the property values."
GBIC President Frank Cioffi expects opponents to keep filing lawsuits, but characterizes them as frivolous, with no solid legal basis. Cioffi says having a successor plane for the retiring F-16 is crucial for the region’s, and Vermont’s, economic stability.
"What this means is the retention of 1100 jobs, in addition they bring in, today, about $54 million in annual payroll associated with those jobs and this is before you get into the economic multiplier that occurred in the other job creation because we have those activities," says Cioffi. "And in addition to that, the Guard supplies the emergency and fire services for the Burlington International Airport that , basically, saves the airport $2.6 million annually, so it is clearly a significant infrastructure asset."
Green Ribbons for the F-35 spearheaded a campaign that saw more than 13,000 postcards of support sent to the U.S. Air Force. Creator Nicole Citro is ecstatic that the planes will be based at the Vermont Air Guard.
"It solidifies the fact that the Vermont Air National Guard will have a continuing mission," says Citro. "So, that means for the next, easily 30 to 40 years we know this will be a strong viable base as it's always been. And that secures those jobs, it secures the jobs that support the base and its gonna be a continuing vibrant community as its always has been."
Officials have said that the Air Force will work with surrounding communities to mitigate any concerns over sound and F-35 operations.
But Jimmy Leas says the Stop the F-35 coalition will continue a three-pronged approach to keep the planes from flying into the airfield.
"There's the legal, and then, we're going to continue to persuade the public that this airplane basing in Burlington is gonna be dangerous," says Leas. And then, are anticipating changing the composition of some of the people in public office through voting, So, I'm sure were gonna stop it."
Nicole Citro believes opponents should work with the local communities rather than continuing a campaign of division.
"We've got a good six years or more until we start seeing these jets fly into our airspace," says Citro. "Is this what they're gonna do and continue to divide the community? The only people who they're making happy are their lawyers. I don't think that's good for the community.
According to the Record of Decision, the 18 F-35 aircraft are expected to begin arriving in Burlington in 2020.