A Burlington business group that favors basing the F-35 fighter jet in Vermont is flying Gov. Peter Shumlin and the mayors of Burlington and Winooski to Florida next Wednesday to hear first-hand how loud the planes are.
But the head of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, the group that's sponsoring the trip, says nobody from South Burlington, where the planes would be based, will be joining them.
"Basically everyone on the South Burlington City Council has their mind made up one way or the other," says GBIC president Frank Cioffi. "I didn't invite them because their minds are made up already. They've already staked out their position and their position is their position."
When Seven Days pointed out that Shumlin, too, has staked out a position on the matter — he's in favor of bringing the planes to Vermont — Cioffi said, "Yes he has. But he's the governor. I would say if the governor wants to go down and view them, I think it's a great opportunity for Vermont to have him go down there."
One woman who definitely didn't get an invite is South Burlington City Council Chairwoman Rosanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel who has become a leading opponent of the Vermont Air National Guard's effort to woo the next-generation planes. Asked if she'd like to join Shumlin and the mayors, Greco said yes — but not to listen to the planes.
"I'd like to go only because I'd like to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with the governor and both mayors about the F-35," Greco says. "Going to hear aircraft in another location that is still in testing to see if I personally find the noise too loud, too soft, just right, is, I think, a waste of time."
She added, "I mean, I guess if you enjoy Florida this time of year, it might be nice to go there. But I am absolutely certain that whatever the three gentlemen come back with will not reflect anything about whether or not this is a good idea for our area."
The delegation will fly from Burlington International Airport to Florida's Eglin Air Force Base and back in a day by private jet, Cioffi says. The roughly $23,000 trip will be financed by GBIC and other donors, including real estate magnate Ernie Pomerleau, who will join the governor and the mayors. Also in attendance will be Vermont Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Steve Cray.
Cioffi says the delegation plans to spend at least six hours at the base observing both F-35s and F-16s take off and land. They'll get an up-close look at the planes and will be briefed by base personnel.
"They've got all kinds of maneuvers planned," Cioffi says. "They're going to show the governor the difference between afterburner and no afterburner. They're going to do a lot of different maneuvers and explain what they're doing."
News of the trip first came during Shumlin's weekly press conference Thursday, when he announced he'd be heading down to Florida.
"I have long said and told Vermonters that the best way to know whether they make noise and how much noise they make is to stand there and listen to one," Shumlin told reporters.
Asked if the trip might prompt him to change his mind on the matter, Shumlin joked, "If I can't hear you when I come back, I'm gonna change my mind."
He added later, "I've been told by informed people that if you fly an F-35 properly that the noise difference between that and what we're currently flying out of Burlington, the F-16, is not significantly different. I want to hear that for myself."
A spokesman for Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who also backs basing the F-35 in South Burlington, says the mayor will travel to Florida with an open mind.
"What I will say about the mayor is that he's a person who's definitely open to the idea that on any issue new information may become available that causes a thoughtful reevaluation of an issue," says Mike Kanarick, the mayor's assistant. "He's approaching this learning opportunity with an open mind."
Winooski Mayor Mike O'Brien, whose city council passed a resolution asking for more information before it weighs in on the basing, says he's not sure what he'll get out of the trip.
"I don't know because I don't know what I'm going to hear," O'Brien says. "One of the difficulties is if you and I go listen to this plane, we're probably going to have different opinions on the thing. So I'm going down with the intention of being objective about it and reporting back what I heard."