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Air Force Releases Draft Environmental Report on F-35 "Beddown" In Burlington


Published April 17, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.

Feeling the need for speed? Cue Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" and roll the testosterone-releasing Top Gun video montage.

The U.S. Air Force has just released the results of its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its proposed "beddown" of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets at Burlington International Airport sometime in the next five years. The Air Force's executive summary and Parts 1 and 2 of the full draft EIS are now available online for public review and comment. A public hearing on the draft EIS is scheduled for Monday, May 14, from 5 to 8 p.m. at South Burlington High School.

In July 2010, the Air Force announced that Burlington International Airport had been chosen as one of two "preferred locations" for the F-35A strike fighters, which are designed and built by Lockheed Martin. Under two proposed scenarios, the Vermont Air National Guard would replace all 18 of its F-16 jets with either 18 or 24 new F-35As.

Based on a quick-and-dirty review of the draft EIS, here are a few of the salient findings:

  • Hours of operation: The new jets would employ similar takeoff and landing patterns as VTANG's current F-16s and would not fly between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The Air Force anticipates that by 2020, the 18 F-35As would fly 5486 flights per year from Burlington International under scenario 1, or 7296 flights under scenario 2.
  • Noise: Under both scenarios 1 and 2, the overall area affected by noise levels of 65 decibels or louder would increase, as would the total residential areas subjected to noise levels of 65 to 85 dB. The report notes that "some residential areas would be newly subject to noise above 65 dB." In certain out-of-state regions of routine flight, including parts of New Hampshire and Maine, "persons on the ground could perceive an increase in noise. Such increases would likely add to the percentage of the population annoyed by aircraft noise. Persons recreating in special land use areas, such as White Mountain National Park, may consider additional noise especially intrusive."
  • Air Quality: Under scenario 1 (18 new fighters), pollutant emissions would "decrease [or remain the same] for six of seven pollutant categories;" under scenario 2 (24 new jets) four of seven pollutant emissions would decrease or remain the same. For other categories of pollutants, "minor increases" would result. The Air Force further claims that "neither... Scenario 1 nor 2 would introduce emissions that would deteriorate regional air quality; the area would remain in attainment for all federal and state air quality standards."
  • Safety: "The F-35A is a new type of aircraft; historical trends show that mishap rates of all types decrease the longer an aircraft is operational and as flight crews and maintenance personnel learn more about the aircraft’s capabilities and limitations. The F-35A will have undergone extensive testing prior to the time the beddown would occur. In addition, the F-35A engine is the product of 30 years of engineering, lessons learned from previous single-engine aircraft, and an extensive, rigorous testing program. Overall, the risks of a mishap are not expected to increase substantially."
  • Biological Resources: Under scenarios 1 and 2, the Air Force claims that although noise from the aircrafts' operations would increase, "the wildlife in the area of Burlington [International Airport] have become habituated to it. As such, no impacts to wildlife, threatened and endangered species, wetlands, or plants would occur. Decreased airfield operations would result in a decreased opportunity for bird/wildlife-aircraft strikes to occur. Similarly, use of higher altitudes by the F-35As would reduce potential strikes in altitude zones where birds mostly fly."
  • Military presence in Vermont: Under scenario 1, the Vermont Air National Guard would not see a change in the number of personnel or overall military payrolls. "With no additional personnel, the scenario would not impact regional employment, income, or regional housing market." Scenario 2 would result in an increase of 266 military personnel, and an annual increase in salaries of approximately $3.4 million. "Either scenario would expend an estimated $2.34 million in 2016 for proposed modification projects. The Burlington area would likely provide the skilled workers for the temporary construction jobs."

As Seven Days' Kevin Kelley reported in October 2010, proponents of the Burlington beddown, including all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, argue that the F-35s will better protect the country, generate jobs and support the ongoing mission of the Green Mountain Boys. Meanwhile, opponents, especially those living near the airport, argue against the deployment on environmental grounds, charging that the louder aircraft will impact Chittenden County’s air with benzene emissions. Still others see the F-35 primarily as a costly and unnecessary expense at a time when the federal government should be scaling back its massive spending on defense.

When contacted Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow, public information officer with the Vermont Air National Guard, said he had not yet had a chance to review the draft EIS and thus couldn't comment on its contents. He did say, however, that it's important for the Vermont National Guard to "remain neutral in the process" at this time when "public opinion is of paramount importance."

"I'm just glad it's out," said Goodrow. "We're very pleased that the Air Force is considering us for the aircraft, but none of this will happen without the public's input."

The Air Force will be accepting written comment through June 1, 2012; both written and oral comments will be considered equally.  Written comments can be submitted via U.S. Postal Service to HQ ACC/A7PS, 129 Andrews Street, Suite 337, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia 23665-2769, ATTN: Mr. Nick Germanos. Oral comments will be recorded by a stenographer at each of the hearing meetings.