Faced with mounting community opposition to the Air Force's proposed stationing of 18 to 24 F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport, Vermont Adjutant General Michael Dubie moved another step closer to advocating on behalf of the new striker fighters, warning that he sees "no clear path forward" for the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) if the F-35s are based elsewhere.
"The way we see things now, there is no plan B" if the F-35s aren't based at Burlington International, Dubie said. "We may not close our doors, but we will be dramatically smaller." Such a loss, he argued, would spell fewer local jobs, money and other resources for Vermonters. Currently, VTANG has an annual budget of $50 million and employs 400 fulltime workers and 700 parttime workers.
Speaking to an audience of reporters and more than two dozen Guard members at Camp Johnson in Colchester, Dubie pointed out that Vermont's "legacy" fleet of fighters, already 26 years old, is due to "time out" — that is, be mothballed — sometime between 2018 and 2020 and the F-35 is its only replacement. Vermonters should not expect a "cafeteria-style menu" from the Air Force from which to pick a new replacement aircraft. Larger aircraft, such as cargo planes or drones, are not likely to be based here due to the size of the Burlington runway and other air space considerations.
"If we don't get a fighter aircraft," Dubie added, "my current professional opinion is that we're going to be much smaller."
Responding to what he called some of the "inaccurate statements," "hyperbole" and "rhetoric" that have arisen following the release of the Air Force's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the F-35s, Dubie also tried to downplay the issues of noise and the potential for dwindling residential home prices as a result of the increased noise.
Dubie admitted that the F-35s will be "somewhat louder" than the F-16 but not as loud as the F-4s that were based at Burlington International prior to the F-16s. How much louder, he said, is "inconclusive" and depends upon on the measurement technique. Dubie also noted that the draft EIS documents don't take into account "aggressive" local mandatory procedures for mitigating noise.
"We are your National Guard and we want you to be proud of us" Dubie noted. "And if we're not good neighbors, that's impossible to have."
Dubie also took aim at some public comments made about the FAA's 2008 home buyback program, which he pointed out has nothing to do with the F-35.
"Now some people are saying that 500, 1000, 2000 homes will be bought back. That's just not true," he said. If more homes are bought back in the future, he added, that decision would be made by the FAA and the City of South Burlington, not the Air Force or Air National Guard.
To address such issues, the Adjutant General proposed creating a citizens advisory committee similar to the one in place for several decades in New York's Adirondack Park. Such a committee, he suggested, would include representatives from local municipalities, the airport, the Vermont Department of Transportation and VTANG to address issues such as noise, land use and environmental concerns.
Citizens opposed to the F-35 "bed down" at Burlington International Airport are staging a protest at 5 p.m. today, Thursday, June 14, in the Winooski roundabout.