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Vermonters to-and-fro on F-35 base issue

Two communities near the Burlington Airport have been voting on the F-35 this week.

The F-35, the Air Force's new fighter jet, may be coming to the Burlington airport. People are worried about noise from the plane, but there's also another concern: public health.

Sarah Harris reports from two community meetings held this week.

On Wednesday night, Winooski City Council voted unanimously against basing the F-35 at the airport.

Three city councilors and mayor Michael O’Brien met on Wednesday night to draft a resolution. They’d heard testimony from Winooski citizens, most of whom opposed the F-35, earlier in the week.

The councilors hashed out new language. They worked from an earlier resolution saying the city valued the air guard but was opposed to excessive noise.

The new document states that that Winooksi is proud of its redevelopment efforts and opposes any noise that jeopardizes its citizens –and its property values.

It also requests that the Air Force not consider Burlington when it decides to base  the first round of planes. 

"I would ask all those in favor of the motion say aye," said Mayor O'Brien.

"Aye," replied the counselors. 

"Opposed?" O'Brien asked.

Nobody answered.

"Motion carries." 

Mark Tomase lives in Winooski, and came to both the Monday and the Wednesday meetings. He says he was surprised and pleased by the vote

"Well I think because it was clear that the majority of the residents are against it, and that clearly got through to the council."

Tomase says he’s worried about property values.

"Our home is our only asset and if it were to lose 10 or 20 percent of its values, that’s the same as taking money out of our savings account."

Winooski mayor Michael O’Brien says the council listened to citizen testimony.

"It’s about coming together to come to agreement on the council. And in these things, you have to compromise. And I think everybody compromised."

The council will meet again on Friday to finalize the resolution language and sign the document.

South Burlington Council meeting produces a different result

However on Monday, South Burlington approved the plane.

The council voted three to two in support of basing the fighter jet at the Burlington airport. The long meeting was filled with passionate testimony -- and ended in a dramatic vote.

Last year the South Burlington City Council voted to oppose the basing. But two F-35 supporters were elected to the council March. So they voted again – with over 150 people packing into the stifling Chamberlin School gym.

Everyone rose for the pledge of allegiance and then returned to their seats for 3 hours of testimony. More than 70 people testified – and two thirds opposed the new plane.

Patrick Benner chairs the Board of Civil Authority in South Burlington. He served in the Air Force in the 1970s and came to the meeting in uniform. Benner says the city's economy will suffer if the F-35 doesn't come to town.

"All of those air men and air women will be transferred to Utah. All of those individuals will no longer be renting our apartments, renting our condos, shopping in our gas stations, and so on."

But Betty Rambur, a UVM nursing professor, says the F-35 isn't good for South Burlington.

"The voices over and over again tonight were talking about the impact on their homes and their community – their beloved community –and so it's an issue of really respecting the individuals who are most vulnerable in our community."

After the testimony, city councilors defended their views. Councilwoman Roseanne Greco is an outspoken opponent of the F-35.

"If I have to do choose, and I do have to choose, I choose the people," she said. "I choose the children. I make this choice not despite my military career, but because of it."

After almost four hours, the meeting adjourned.

After the meeting, citizens were on their feet, crowding around the city councilors and fighting to say their piece. Another meeting -- this one about purported health repercussions for children -- will take place at Chamberlin School in South Burlington Tuesday night. The Air Force comment period on the new environmental impact statement ends July 15.

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