SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – Plans on where to base the U.S. militarys next-generation fighter jet, the F-35, concern people in communities from California to Florida to Maine who worry the aircraft are too loud.
In Vermont, where the Air National Guard has flown planes from Burlington International Airport for more than 60 years, opponents are especially vocal.
South Burlington City Council President Rosanne Greco, a retired Air Force officer, said she favored bringing the F-35 to her community until she read the draft environmental impact statement released last spring.
The F-35s will have incredibly significant negative impact on up to 10,000 people who will be unfortunate enough to be in the noise contour zone that the federal government deems unsuitable for residential use, Greco said. For me its become a clear-cut analytical choice. The facts say this is harmful to our environment.
The report, she said, considers exposure to average aircraft noise greater than 65 decibels (about the sound of a vacuum cleaner about three feet away) not considered suitable for residential use. Another section discusses the potential long-term health effects of exposure to aircraft noise.
The planes supporters say Greco is exaggerating the number of people who would be affected by the noise contour zone. And they believe she and others are cherry-picking information from the report without providing its full context. There is a section of the report that discusses long-term health effects, for example, but it concludes there arent any significant health impacts.
The Air Force already has chosen where it will base the F-35s, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, for training. The next step is to decide where to base the first operational planes, those that would be ready for war.
Vermont is the most vocal, but Vermont is the preferred alternative for the Guard unit, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. But its the not the only alternative.
Plans are to base 18 to 24 of the new aircraft in South Burlington by 2020.
Noise concerns have followed the F-35 since it first began flying. Pegged at $130 million each for the Air Force version, it is the militarys most expensive procurement program ever. The F-35 is designed to be the nations supersonic and most advanced fighter through mid-century, with different models for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
In California, the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is slated to get F-35s in several years, but environmental groups have already questioned the potential effect on endangered species. Neighbors have said they dont want the plane rattling their windows.
Noise concerns also have been raised in Arizona, where the Marines and Air Force are basing F-35s in Yuma and Phoenix.
In Floridas Panhandle, an area long-accustomed to the sounds of military aircraft, a lawsuit by the city of Valparaiso in part over noise concerns prompted the Air Force to change the Eglin Air Force Base runways the F-35s would use, in most instances, to avoid flying over the city.
Air Force and Marine pilots at Eglin began F-35 training missions last March. Since then F-35 pilots have flown about 600 sorties, with about 2 percent generating noise complaints, a number the base considers small.
Some of the complaints come on days the F-35s are not flying, said base spokesman Mike Spaits.
We empathize with their plight, but the reality is there does seem to be some level of hysteria involved with the noise complaints on the F-35, he said.
Col. David Augustine, commander of the Air National Guards 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne, has said he hopes the F-35 will at some point replace the A-10 jets flown from the base.