An overwhelming majority of the Burlington City Council supported a resolution Monday that asks Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont's congressional delegation to "do everything in their power to" suspend F-35 training flights during the coronavirus pandemic.
The resolution — which was sponsored by all six Progs and Sarah Carpenter, a Democrat — asks the powers-that-be to reassign Vermont Air National Guard members from F-35 flights to coronavirus response efforts "to reduce additional anxiety for our residents during this global emergency."
It passed 11 to 1, with Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) casting the lone no vote. The council met via videconference.
"It's been clear that the community is incredibly stressed by these planes at this time," said Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District), the resolution's lead sponsor. "It's not meant to be impolite or create problems; I think it's really just honestly addressing a pretty straightforward concern that many, many people [have]."
The resolution was pared down from a version that Freeman first proposed on Friday. That draft was an exact copy of a letter that F-35 opponents sent to Scott in late March and cross-posted to Change.org. It asked the governor to direct Guard members to build homes for the homeless, deliver food to vulnerable Vermonters and bring medical supplies to hospitals during the crisis.
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had just 536 supporters; by Monday, some 1,536 had signed.
158th Fighter Wing Commander Col. David Shevchik told Seven Days on Friday that the Guard's federal F-35 mission can continue without detracting from the state COVID-19 efforts. Scott agreed, writing in a letter to F-35 opponents that the fighter jet mission is vital.
The new resolution is still directed at Scott but is also addressed to Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). It emphasizes that Vermonters are affected by the jets' "intense noise" while they abide by the governor's stay-home order, which Scott extended to May 15 last week.
Dieng, however, proposed an amended resolution that would ask Scott to reduce the jets' flights by half while increasing the Guard's "good efforts in mitigating the impact of COVID-19." Dieng argued that it's pointless to petition the governor for something he has already shot down.
"We are a small state. We have a governor who is trying so hard to mitigate this outbreak in our communities and also throughout the state," he said. "I think we need to ask nicely, as these amendments are doing."
Dieng's amendment failed 9 to 3, with Councilors Joan Shannon (D-South District) and Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) also voting in favor.
The Burlington City Council on Monday
Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) said the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to ask higher-ups to address jet noise. "There is more willingness for folks to listen," he said. Newcomer Carpenter (D-Ward 4) said it's important to remember that the ask is temporary during a time of "significant stress."
About a dozen people who called into the meeting's public forum agreed. Lucy Gluck told councilors that Burlingtonians need quiet places to recover from COVID-related stress.
"I've had three, at least three times in the last two weeks that I've been out walking and had the jets go crashing over my head, just screaming over my head, and it's unacceptable," Gluck said. "Citizens of Burlington voted and said no to the basing of these jets, and the very least we can do right now is to say we're in a highly stressful time. We need people to protect their health and their sanity."
Drew Schatzer, who is homeschooling his child, pleaded: "Stick up for us. You're our only hope."
But not everyone agreed the jets should stop flying. Dale Tillotson urged the councilors "to rip this BS resolution up" and focus instead on removing graffiti downtown. Callers Rick Bassett and Amy Magyar said keeping F-35s in flight ensures that airmen are prepared to respond to emergencies, coronavirus-related or otherwise.
Freeman countered that the U.S. is "heavily invested in military apparatus right now" and said halting F-35 practice flights wouldn't "change our capacity to defend ourselves."
"The noise and the stress is actually more of a concern for public health," Freeman added.