I’m writing this on Memorial Day. I don’t normally sit around thinking about my military career; but I am today. That’s because I recently took a position some see as disrespectful of the military. I opposed basing the F-35A in South Burlington. This is why.
Initially, I supported basing the F-35A here; and thought those opposing it were overly sensitive. Noise doesn’t bother me, as I spent almost three decades living close to military flightlines. Regardless, my personal feelings about noise were irrelevant, as I didn’t live near the airport. In my naïveté, I thought it was only about a few minutes of noise.
Then I started listening to the residents most affected by the airport, and researching -- including reading the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) --and driving around the airport neighborhoods.
Here’s what I learned: the actual jet noise isn’t the real issue; it is the consequences of that noise. Noise is destroying residents’ pocketbooks, their homes, their lifestyles, and their neighborhoods. Noise is resulting in the loss of affordable housing. Noise is leading to slum conditions in once vibrant communities.
Noise is causing the demolition of homes. For example, 1,578 homes are currently in the noise contour area. So far, 200 South Burlington homes have been identified for purchase and demolition. 1,366 more homes, for a total of 2,944 homes, would be in this noise area if the F-35As were based here. And, the FAA home buy-out money is not guaranteed; nor is the airport under any obligation to purchase homes. In fact, last week, the airport said they were not going to purchase any more homes.
Noise is stopping people from selling homes. Sellers in the noise area must disclose to prospective buyers and lessees that their homes have been designated by the government as “not considered suitable for residential use.” Potential buyers won’t qualify for federally guaranteed loans, program assistance, subsidies, or housing insurance.
The environmental impact extends beyond noise to many other areas. The DEIS states our area would be negatively affected in the following categories: Noise, Safety, Climate Change, Air Quality, Socioeconomics, Land Use, Environmental Justice and the Protection of Children, and Transportation. Because of word limits of “My Turn” I have space to address only two more categories.
Safety projections for the F-35A are based on the F-22A, which was operationally deployed in 2002. However the F-22 is now experiencing significant safety issues, so much so, that ANG pilots are refusing to fly them. Moreover, new aircraft normally have more crashes than mature aircraft. And crashes are more prone to happen on take-offs and landings.
The F-35A requires significant amounts of fossil fuel and natural resources, such as water. Fossil fuel supplies will dwindle and eventually be depleted. Predictions from a U.S. climate report, cited by the DEIS, state that the Northeast could face droughts and scarcity of water supplies in coming years. Water is essential for maintenance of the aircraft -- and people. Decisions will have to be made on who gets the fuel and the water.
My responsibility is to the residents of South Burlington. My job is to look out for their general welfare, to represent them, and to speak on their behalf.
My decision is not about patriotism, or support for the ANG. Ultimately, it is about the people who live near the airport. It’s about the loss of their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, and their way of life. The F-16s and the airport have already resulted in the loss of neighborhoods. The F-35A will result in the loss of even more neighborhoods.
We are being asked to comment on the environmental impact of basing the F-35A in South Burlington. Without a doubt, the basing has a significant negative environmental impact on our area. The DEIS states on page 2-29, that not basing the F-35A here “would be the environmentally preferable alternative.” I agree.
Rosanne Greco is a retired Air Force Colonel, who spent over 29 years on active duty. She is currently the Chair of the South Burlington City Council.
[Editor's Note: My Turn is a section for extended op-eds in the local paper, the Burlington Free Press]