Opponents of basing F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport are claiming the Air Force "severely underestimated" the number of housing units in Winooksi that would be exposed to unhealthy noise levels generated by the planes.
Jim Dumont, a Bristol attorney representing foes of the BTV basing scenario, told the Air Force last week that it had made a "fundamental error" in its draft study of the environmental impact of stationing up to two dozen of the stealth fighters at BTV.
Due to its allegedly faulty calculation, the Air Force is obligated by law to publish a supplement to its impact study and to allow time for public comment on that revised draft, Dumont argues. The mistake made by the Air Force "invalidates" the current version of the study, he charges.
For its part, the Air Force says only that it has received the October 4 letter containing Dumont's claims. "That letter is under review," Air Combat Command spokeswoman Beverly Simas wrote in an e-mail message on Wednesday.
The Air Force's report on the BTV basing option does not indicate how many homes in Winooski, specifically, would be included in the 65-decibel zone created by F-35 noise. But the study does estimate that stationing two dozen F-35s at BTV would expose 1366 additional homes in all of Chittenden County to average daily noise levels of 65 decibels or higher.
Dumont questions that estimate because, based on his own analysis, there are fewer than 100 homes in Winooski currently inside the high-decibel zone for commercial jets and F-16 fighter planes flown by the Vermont Air National Guard. Dumont further estimates that a total of 2655 households in Winooski — or 78 percent of the city's entire housing stock — would actually lie inside a high-noise zone mapped by the Air Force in its F-35 impact study.
F-35 opponents say the miscalculation stems from flawed methodology used by the Air Force in projecting the number of homes that would be situated in the expanded 65-decibel zone created by the F-35s. In its draft environmental impact study, the Air Force explains that its estimate is based on an assumption that there is "an even distribution of population within each block" included in U.S. Census data that the Air Force used in making its estimate.
But that population data do not yield an accurate count of the housing units actually on the blocks within the F-35 high-noise zone, says Horace Shaw, a retired geographic information system technician for the city of South Burlington. Shaw arrived at the figure of 2655 affected Winooski households simply by correlating the residential properties included on Winooski's grand list with the map of the high-noise zone appended to the Air Force study.
Steve Allen, an F-35 opponent and local real-estate appraiser who worked with Shaw in tallying the number of impacted Winooski homes, says he has "a very high degree of confidence" in their calcuation. Allen adds that he and Shaw also plan to use grand list data to count the number of homes inside the F-35 high-noise zone in Burlington, Colchester, South Burlington and Williston. He says he expects the cumulative number to be much higher than the total arrived at through the Air Force's methodology.