Vermont Air National Guard Prepares For F-35s Amid Burlington Vote To Stop Them

Mar 1, 2018

A non-binding ballot item in Burlington this Town Meeting Day would advise the City Council to request that F-35 fighter jets not be based at Burlington International Airport — but the Vermont Air National Guard says they're still getting ready for the arrival of the aircraft.

The fight over the basing of F-35s in Burlington has been going on for years.

Charles Simpson is an activist with Save Our Skies — the group that worked to get the item on the ballot. He's also running for Burlington City Council.

Charles Simpson, an activist with Save Our Skies and a candidate for Burlington City Council, said the ballot item is a check on the city's inaction on the basing of F-35s.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

Simpson said among the concerns is the noise from the new jets.

"The old plane was the F-16. We're bringing in the F-35 — four times louder, much bigger noise impact zone, which is going to put in jeopardy 3,000 homes,” he said.

Save Our Skies' website lists other concerns, such as potential health impacts from exposure to high levels of noise.

Opponents of F-35s in Burlington feel voters should support the non-binding ballot item this Town Meeting Day.

However, in the week before the vote, the Vermont Air National Guard has stepped up its outreach, including taking a group of reporters on a tour of the air base to show how much work has already been done to get ready for the new aircraft.

“So this is aircraft shelters, this will be a new aircraft parking apron where we park the jets,” said Col. Adam Rice, gesturing at a large dirt field with a couple of long silver pipes set on the ground.

“The air field project is a little over 50 percent complete,” Rice added.

The Vermont Air National Guard has already spent $83 million in renovations at their base in anticipation of the F-35s arrival. The jets are expected to come to Vermont in the fall of 2019.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

So far, the guard has spent $83 million preparing the base for the new jets, and Lt. Col. Daniel Finnegan, of the F-35 integration office, said the preparation will continue.

“It has been ongoing for 10 years, and we've taken it very seriously," Finnegan said. “When the first F-35 lands here in 18 months we intend to be fully trained and equipped to receive it.”

Brig. Gen. Joel Clark declined to say how the guard would respond if the ballot item passes.

“For right now, I don't want to speculate one way or the other on which way that that ballot item goes,” he said. “We will continue to work with the City Council, we'll continue to work with the mayor as we move forward with the basing of the F-35.”

Clark said the wording of the ballot item makes it sound like opposing the F-35s is actually supporting the guard, which he says is misleading.

From left to right, Brig. Gen Joel Clark, Col. Henry Harder and Lt. Col. Daniel Finnegan speak at a press conference about the Vermont Air National Guard's preparations for bringing the F-35s to the state.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

“It's inaccurate, and to us, a vote of ‘no’ is support of this Vermont Air National Guard,” he said. “But I am not telling anybody how to vote. That is their right to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as they choose.”

Simpson, the activist against the F-35s, said the Town Meeting Day vote is a check on the city.

“In the present case of aircraft noise, the mayor and the City Council have failed to execute the police power of government to protect area homes,” Simpson said at a City Council meeting in January.

According to Clark, the guard expects to land a few jets in Vermont this year before the F-35s are officially slated to be here to stay in 2019.