Gov. Peter Shumlin says he’ll travel to Florida next week, where he’ll hear first-hand the sound of fighter jets that could soon be based at the Vermont Air Guard in South Burlington, fulfilling a campaign promise that he made to progressive supporters who oppose the F-35 program.
During the campaign, Shumlin told voters who contest basing the jets in South Burlington because of their noise that he’d go to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to witness the takeoff and landing of an F-35. Now, Shumlin says he’s sticking to his word.
"I think I owe it to Vermonters to listen to an F-35 as compared to an F-16 and see what it sounds like," Shumlin told reporters Thursday.
Shumlin won’t travel alone. He’ll be joined by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien.
"I’m honored that it’s possible for me and the mayors of the cities – the closest cities – that would be impacted and others to listen to them," Shumlin said. "I do think when you’re making a decision of this magnitude it’s important that you know what you’re talking about."
Noticeably absent from the trip will be officials from South Burlington, the city where the F-35s would be based.
South Burlington’s City Council has opposed replacing the F-16s currently based at the Air Guard with F-35s. The Air Force’s environmental review says that the new jets will be louder and would pose problems for those who live near the airport – residents like Juliet Buck.
Buck answered the telephone Thursday afternoon as F-16s were taking off over her home. She said she’d just learned about the governor’s plans.
"My first thought was, ‘Oh good. We have three people who know nothing about noise going somewhere to not measure noise and spend the taxpayers’ money doing it," she said.
A strong supporter of the F-35, the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation is actually arranging the trip and paying for it.
Still, Buck characterizes the event as pure propaganda and political posturing.
"[Shumlin] is going to be standing up there with a large group of people who approve of this project. Nobody who’s opposed to this project is invited. Nobody who can actually evaluate the quality of that noise has been invited," Buck said.
The fighter jets haven’t yet been added to the Pentagon fleet, and they could be scaled back by Congress as it tries to reduce the federal deficit.
Buck says the planes should be grounded because they’re so expensive and so noisy.
Shumlin says that he hears those concerns, and that he’s willing to withdraw his support after he hears the F-35s.
"Everyone has to make their own judgment," Shumlin said. "But I feel strongly that when I make a decision I want to be informed."
Shumlin says that standing on the tarmac in Florida will give him a better sense of how much noise the F-35 really makes.
The U.S. Air Force’s decision about where to base the fighter jets is now expected to be made early next year.