More than 125 Vermonters — some of them well-known business leaders — have signed on to a newspaper advertisement in support of basing the Air Force's F-35 jet fighter at the National Guard station at Burlington International Airport.
The ad downplays opponents' concerns about the noise the planes would generate and emphasizes what the signers say would be the economic benefits of deploying up to two dozen F-35s in the Burlington area.
Decibel levels likely to be experienced by many nearby residents would exceed safe thresholds for a total of only six minutes per day, states the ad, which ran in half-page form in Sunday's Burlington Free Press and is scheduled to appear this week in South Burlington's Other Paper.
Calculating that it takes 30 seconds for a departing F-35 to soar out of hearing range, the ad says six of the planes would take off at 9 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. every day. Retired restaurateur Gary Farrell, who says he wrote the ad on the basis of information provided by the Vermont Air Guard, suggested in an interview on Monday that "most people are inside buildings during those times — working or going to school."
The war plane's local backers warn that "if the F-35 does not come to Burlington, a significant number of the 400 full-time jobs and 700 part-time jobs [currently provided by the Vermont Air National Guard] could be lost." As a worst-case outcome, Farrell added in the interview, "the base could be shut down at some point because the Air Force is definitely phasing out the F-16" — the fighter jet currently based at BTV. That scenario would entail the loss of an Air Guard payroll of $50 million, along with the $2.5 million worth of crash/rescue services that the guard currently provides at BTV, the ad says.
Farrell explains that he was motivated to take a public stand in support of the F-35 in part because of the South Burlington City Council's recent 4-1 vote in opposition to basing the plane in a primarily residential neighborhood. In addition, the ad appeared in the Free Press three days after a public meeting at which some Winooski residents voiced strong opposition to the basing plan.
About a dozen of the ad's signers contributed a total of $4000 to the pro-F-35 publicity effort, Farrell says. A signer did not have to make a donation in order to be included, he notes.
Among the familiar names expressing support are three members of the Pizzagalli family; Lake Champlain Chocolates founder and president Jim Lampman; Redstone real estate co-owner Doug Nedde; architect William Truex; Republican former U.S. Senate candidate Richard Tarrant; Twincraft Soap CEO Richard Asch; Scott Boardman, president of the Hickok & Boardman insurance firm; and realtor Ernie Pomerleau.
It's the sort of list that F-35 opponent Jimmy Leas, a South Burlington attorney, describes as reflective of "Vermont's 1 percent." Some of the business leaders who signed the ad may also stand to gain personal economic benefits if the F-35 does come to Vermont, Leas adds. He acknowledges, though, that many of the Vermonters listed as supporters are not prominent figures.
Farrell says that the roster includes "school teachers, people staying at home and those from all walks of life." Most of the names were previously unfamiliar to him, he adds.