Assuming the city council doesn’t interfere with the democratic process, the resolution to reject the basing of the F-35 stealth fighter jets at Burlington International Airport will be on the ballot this upcoming town meeting day. Burlingtonians will have to answer a few fundamental questions – is it acceptable to subject thousands of Chittenden County families to the health and environmental impacts of a military fighter jet? And is it acceptable for Burlington to be complicit in the continuation of an economy fueled by the military industrial complex?
When the F-16s came to Burlington in the 1980’s, little was known about the effects the fighter jets would have on the quality of life in our community. Only in 2015 did Burlington do a study that found that nearly 1000 affordable single family homes were ‘unsuitable for residential use’ because of F-16 basing at the airport. Burlington’s Board of Health heard months of testimony and reviewed research on the effects of the jet noise and concluded that it “has been associated with the following effects: hearing loss, stress, sleep disturbance, heart attacks, hypertension and stroke, and delayed reading and verbal comprehension.”
Supposedly in order to mitigate the danger, Burlington applied for and accepted FAA grants to purchase and demolish 200 affordable homes in South Burlington, spending some $57 million in federal tax dollars. The city bought up homes in a strip of 44 acres immediately across from the airport entrance that had high resale value for commercial or industrial development. Over 1000 families in the airport neighborhood were left to deal with the intense noise zone of the F-16. They simply don’t have the economic ability to uproot their lives and move elsewhere.
While that is an outrage on its own, if we allow the F-35 to be based at Burlington Airport, thousands more affordable homes in Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski will become ‘unsuitable for residential use’. Unfortunately, that will not be paired with giant federal grants to compensate the mostly working class families that this will affect. Instead, most residents will simply be forced to suffer the health and environmental impacts on their own. The intense noise zone map in the Air Force report shows that around 75% of the total housing stock in Winooski will become ‘unsuitable for residential use.’ Not surprisingly, Winooski houses a large percentage of New Americans, refugees, and communities of color, who will be disproportionately affected by these loud, polluting war machines.
Opposition to the F-35 is widespread across all sectors of the ideological spectrum and all levels of government. Republican Senator John McCain once said, “the F-35 is both a scandal and a tragedy” and is “the worst example of the military-industrial-congressional complex.” While many have come out in opposition, one notable figure has been outspoken in his support for the F-35: Donald Trump.
Given the drastic social and environmental threats posed, our representatives should be outraged and fighting tooth and nail to stop the F35s from being based in Burlington. Instead, the Mayor’s office and some members of City Council have quietly floated the idea of suppressing the democratic process and preventing a March vote by Burlingtonians on the issue. As residents, activists, and participants in the political process, we have to demand a formal say over the F35s coming to our airport.
On Monday night, the city council will decide whether or not to respect the democratic process. Please show up at 6:30 pm at city hall (Contois Auditorium – 149 Church St, Burlington VT, 05401) and join the grassroots opposition to the F-35. Visit http://saveourskiesvt.org/ for even more reasons why the F-35 shouldn’t be based at our airport.
JF Carter Neubieser – Candidate for Ward 8 City Council