* UPDATED below with links to final Air Force report *
The Vermont Air National Guard is well positioned to host a squadron of F-35 fighter jets, an Air Force official said Wednesday.
A final environmental impact statement prepared by the Air Force and received by the Vermont Guard Wednesday lists its South Burlington air base as the military's "preferred alternative" to host the planes, Air Force spokeswoman Kathy White said. While that means Burlington's odds of getting the planes are "favorable," White said, it's not a done deal.
Once the final environmental impact statement is entered into the federal register next week, Air Force leaders will have 30 days or more to make a final decision.
"The Burlington Air National Guard station is the preferred alternative in the final EIS to receive the F-35 operational air craft," White told Seven Days. "So that means that right now it looks favorable the Guard's first operational F-35 will be stationed there."
Bases in Florida and South Carolina are also competing for the planes.
The Burlington Free Press' Sam Hemingway, who broke the news Wednesday afternoon, wrote that the Guard "has won its bid to obtain a squadron of new F-35 fighter jets," but White clarified to Seven Days that's not necessarily the case.
Air Force leaders, she said, "are under no obligation to pick the one that's the preferred alternative. They have the discretionary authority to select any of the alternatives. So I honestly don't know. Whether that's a slam dunk or not, I couldn't tell you."
A spokesperson for the Vermont Guard did not immediately return a call for comment.
* UPDATED below on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8:41 p.m. *
Vermont’s congressional delegation — all three of whose members support basing the F-35 in South Burlington — released a summary of the revised EIS Wednesday evening. The summary, provided to the delegation by the Air Force, confirms that Burlington remains the top Guard candidate to host the F-35s, while Utah’s Hill Air Force Base is the top active duty candidate.
The document includes new details of the public comments the Air Force received during a 45-day window this summer. The vast majority of the 11,172 comments focused on the South Burlington base — not the other five Guard and active duty candidates:
There were 809 letters, handwritten notes, and emails received: 644 were in opposition to the basing action and 165 were in favor of it. Of the 10,349 postcards received, 9,655 were in support of basing F-35A aircraft at the Burlington AGS and 694 were in opposition. As was mentioned above, a petition in support of the basing action was signed by 2,460 people.
While the Guard hasn’t yet returned Seven Days’ call for comment, its spokesman, Capt. Chris Gookin, told Vermont Public Radio’s Taylor Dobbs he took issue with the Burlington Free Press’ reporting on the issue. He said the paper’s assertion that the Guard had “won its bid” to obtain the planes is false.
“That is not correct,” Gookin told VPR. “That is not a correct statement.”
By Wednesday evening, the Free Press had updated its story to say that the Guard “has all but won its bid” to obtain the planes.
* UPDATED below on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. *
The Air Force has posted its final environmental impact statement online.