On Vermont’s Town Meeting Day, voters in Burlington will be asked whether the city should request a cancellation of the basing of a fleet of military jets, which is scheduled to arrive in the Champlain Valley.
A new fleet of F-35 fighters is expected to land at the Vermont Air Guard base in 2019, to replace the unit’s tired force of F-16s.
Tuesday, Burlington voters will be asked a non-binding question about whether they want to request that the F-35s’ planned arrival be canceled, asking that the city instead request quieter aircraft from the military.
With construction work currently underway at the Air Guard base to prepare for the fighter jets, the military has called them critical to future needs and considers the basing decision a settled matter.
However, opponents have long feared that noise from the F-35s will harm the quality of life in the Champlain Valley, and claim the basing process was flawed.
“The basing is committed,” Frank Cioffi of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation said Thursday. “The decision has been made.”
Cioffi, who heads the economic development initiatives of the GBIC, presented fresh workforce data and framed the debate as an economic development one. He urged city voters to say no to question six—to reject the notion of a basing cancellation request by Burlington.
The question is on Burlington’s ballot because the city has control over the Burlington International Airport, which is adjacent to the Air Guard base.
Cioffi said the F-35s are vital to more than 1,000 jobs at the Air Guard base.
“I think there’s a huge risk that they could vanish,” Cioffi said of the jobs at the base. “Our first job in economic development is to hold onto what you have.”
Cioffi cited research by economic consultant Art Woolf in saying the Air Guard employed 463 people full-time and 586 people part-time in 2017. The payroll for the Vermont Air Guard was $57-million in 2017, a figure which included benefits, Cioffi said.
Capital expenditures due to the arrival of the F-35 are anticipated to be $100-million over the next five years, according to the GBIC.
However, opponents believe the jobs at the base would not suffer if the F-35 were to go elsewhere instead of Vermont. The opponents believe the military could still assign different equipment to the facility, and say that has been the case in other communities around the country.
“We want a better aircraft,” said Roseanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel who wants Burlington to vote yes on question six to request a cancellation and reassignment of equipment for the base. “You can—and I do—both support the Guard and oppose the weapons system.”
Greco hopes the military will hear a call for aircraft that’s quieter and more established than the new F-35 technology, perhaps with a humanitarian mission instead of a fighting one.
Guard commander Steven Cray has insisted there is no alternative mission planned for the base, blasting the ballot question as misleading.
“The ballot question is inaccurate,” Cray warned in February after the non-binding question was placed on the Town Meeting Day ballot in Burlington following a petition push.
Voters make their voices heard on Tuesday.