A sizable contribution from a Vermont utility will help soundproof buildings in three Chittenden County cities affected by F-35 jet noise, officials said Thursday.
Vermont Gas Systems will kick in $550,000 for Burlington International Airport’s noise mitigation program in fiscal year 2021. The amount covers the required 10 percent local match for a $4.5 million annual federal grant sought by Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski.
“When it appeared that our general funds … might be on the hook in some way for that half a million dollars or more a year, that was a real obstacle to moving forward with this program,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said at a press conference in Winooski, where he was joined by that city's mayor, Kristine Lott, and South Burlington City Council chair Helen Riehle.
“The hope is that this pilot [program] lays the groundwork for that local match to be the way this works going forward,” Weinberger said.
The funds will help purchase "a broad array of products" including new windows and doors for homes and schools where the jet noise measures between 65 and 75 decibels, according to BTV deputy aviation director Nic Longo. Some 2,640 dwelling units would be within that noise contour, spread out across Burlington, South Burlington, Colchester, Williston and Winooski.
According to Lott, about 43 percent of all homes in Winooski could be eligible for soundproofing.
Vermont Gas’ contribution will soundproof between 10 and 12 homes this fiscal year. Once the federal dollars become available, the airport could soundproof between 50 and 60 homes a year at $30,000 to $50,000 a pop, according to Longo.
It could take 25 years to soundproof every home in the noise contour, he said.
Concerns over the jet noise began well before the first F-35 arrived last fall and continue to present day. Hundreds of people urged Gov. Phil Scott to suspend the jets’ flying operations during the pandemic to no avail, and many residents have lodged complaints about the Guard’s night-flying protocol.
Thursday afternoon, the city leaders praised Vermont Gas for helping them close the funding gap. The utility's president and CEO, Neale Lunderville — who once ran Burlington Electric and the city’s Community and Economic Development Office under Weinberger — said the soundproofing program also makes homes more efficient.
“When … we realized how much of sound mitigation involves insulation, we knew we had a key role to play,” Lunderville said, noting that owners of soundproofed homes should see lower utility bills. “We realized that we can piggyback on those construction efforts to complete thermal weatherization at the same time.”
Thursday's news follows the airport's announcement last month that it received two other noise mitigation grants. A $3.49 million federal grant will pay for upgrades to the ventilation system at Chamberlain Elementary School in South Burlington, located a few blocks from the airport. The fix will allow staff to keep doors and windows closed year-round to cut down on the jet noise.
And a $340,000 grant will be used to install three "mobile sound monitoring units" near the airport. Aviation director Gene Richards told Seven Days last month that he hopes to place the equipment at Chamberlain school and at the Winooski and Williston municipal offices.