One of the strongest voices of opposition to the F-35s is retired Air Force colonel Rosanne Greco, a member of the South Burlington City Council who has pored over the Air Force’s environmental impact statement and scoring sheets for Burlington. “Burlington was not the highest rated base either operationally or environmentally for the F-35,” she said. “Yet somehow it was chosen over other bases that were much better suited.”
She said she believes that the Air Force is delaying the final report because “they cannot say why, given this, that Burlington was chosen.”
Ben Cohen, founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, is among those who are speaking out publicly. Cohen said in an interview that he believes the new fighter jet is not only unsuitable for Vermont but, citing F-35 development problems, is an ill-advised investment of taxpayer dollars.
“We are not going to be part of this boondoggle,” Cohen said in an interview. “Someone finally has to say ‘no.’ ”
Even Leahy has been sharply critical of the Pentagon’s broader, $400 billion procurement program for the F-35, which is one of the costliest in Pentagon history and is suffering from a series of delays and technical setbacks. Leahy’s office says he has decided that if the program is going to go forward his constituents should benefit from it.
Local residents like Jamie Tucker, a 45-year-old builder whose one-story ranch house is situated just a slim patch of woodlands from the Air National Guard runway, isn’t so sure.
“We hope to move out of here,” the 45-year-old builder said last week as he wrapped his arms around the shoulders of his 8-year-old daughter Samara after a trio of F-16 fighter jets rumbled down the runway and screeched skyward a few hundred feet from his back door. “But we have no place to go yet. The rent here is pretty cheap.”
He says he would like to stay but knows the noise — and its impact on the neighborhood where his two daughters go to school and have set down roots — will only become less attractive if the F-35s are based here in the future.
In general, the FAA recommends that local authorities not permit the construction of residential homes in the areas affected by high noise levels, but the decisions on how to mitigate problems are left to communities. Homeowners are unlikely to be forced to move, but the FAA’s designation of a sound zone that is “incompatible with residential use’’ makes it exceedingly difficult to sell homes.
“I realize the military needs to advance,” Tucker said, “but there is a community here that needs to be addressed.”
Leahy’s senate colleague Sanders, too, says he wants more information about how the selection of Burlington was made.
“I take seriously allegations that the scoring process may have been flawed,” he told the Globe in a statement Friday, adding that the Air Force should release all of its documentation. “I do believe the process must be transparent and fair.”