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Meeting of the Stop the F-35 Coalition. Photo: Sarah Harris
Meeting of the Stop the F-35 Coalition. Photo: Sarah Harris

Burlington area residents debate F-35 noise

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Last spring the Air Force announced that Burlington was one of two preferred sites for a fleet of new F-35 fighter jets. The F-35s are a lot louder than the F-16s that currently take off and land from Burlington International Airport.

Many area residents are worried about the noise from the jets and its effect on their property values. Others are glad that the F-35 would guarantee a continued Air Force presence in Burlington.

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At  6:30 on a Wednesday night, a dozen Burlington-area residents gathered in the library at Winooski High School. They chat, push tables together, and settle into what will be a 2-hour meeting. This is the Stop the F-35 Coalition. 

Laurie Gagne lives in Winooski and teaches peace and justice studies at St. Michael’s College. 

"Already people who come into the neighborhood complain, they notice the noise, how conversations have to stop, and to hear that these new planes would be 4 times as loud has to have a negative effect on people’s perception of the neighborhood," Gagne said. 

Nicole Citro displays a pro-F-35 bumper sticker. Photo: Sarah Harris
Nicole Citro displays a pro-F-35 bumper sticker. Photo: Sarah Harris
But several neighborhoods away, Nicole Citro disagrees. She’s an insurance agent, and founded the Green Ribbons for the F-35 campaign.

"I wanted a way for the community to show their support for the Vermont Air National Guard. So of course thinking of the yellow ribbons that were prevalent during the Iraq conflict and everything that ok, yellow ribbons for that, why not green ribbons for the Green Mountain Boys."

Vermont’s congressional delegation and governor Peter Shumlin are supporters.

Towns have taken positions too. The airport is in South Burlington, whose city council voted against the F-35.

Winooski, just north of the airport, issued a careful statement recognizing the importance of the air guard but condemning excessive noise.

"Noise is such a subjective thing – what bothers you and me might not bother the person down the street, so it’s really hard to say," said Kathy White, public relations officer at the Air Force.

Map of potential 65 decibel noise zone from the draft Environmental Impact Statement. (Click image for larger version)
Map of potential 65 decibel noise zone from the draft Environmental Impact Statement. (Click image for larger version)
The Air Force’s Environmental Impact Statement says noise from the F-35 could average 65 decibels.

White says noise levels from the jet can change based on conditions and specific maneuvers. But 65 decibels, she admits, is pretty loud.

"The 65 decibel level –what we say is that a substantial portion of the population can expect to become annoyed by that level of noise. And it’s also identified as a noise level at which certain land uses aren’t recommended. But an example of a 65 decibel is a vacuum cleaner going constantly at three feet from your head."

"The 65 level they’ve got is not one that you can raise a family in," said Jim Dumont, the lawyer representing the Stop the F-35 Coalition.

He says that high levels of noise will likely drive down property values of homes near the airport.

"One thing that’s really jumped out is me is that there are going to be many property owners – maybe a thousand, maybe more, whose property values are going to be severely harmed," Dumont said. "And I’ve asked, ok, who’s going to pay for this. And what I’ve learned so far is that it looks like, ok, nobody’s going to pay for it. These people may have their life savings disappear with the F-35."

Dumont says that if the F-35 does come to in Burlington, the airport’s zoning permits will need to be amended. And someone will have to foot the bill for losses incurred by property owners.

"So far, and I hope these documents prove me wrong, but the big pictures seems to be, that the city of Burlington, the airport commission, and the air force are taking a survival of the fittest approach. You happen to live in the wrong area, it’s your problem," Dumont said. 

This past summer the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation released a study claiming that property values for homes near the airport won’t be adversely affected by noise.

Critics were quick to condemn the study, saying the data used was inaccurate.

The Burlington International Airport, with money from the FAA, has spent the last decade buying out homes where the noise is loudest – 65 decibels.  

It’s not clear what the airport will do if that noise zone gets bigger when the F-35 comes to town.

The Air Force says it’s not responsible for buy backs. 

We the Air Force do not have the authority to buy back homes or properties," said Kathy White. "So we can’t go in that direction with anyone, at this point."

The Air Force plans to release a final Environmental Impact Statement in November. They expect that a decision about where to base the F-35 will be made in late 2012 or early 2013. 

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