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Vermont’s ‘Leaders’ Run Away From Substantive Debate on F-35
Judging by their behavior, Vermont’s highest elected officials don’t care much if a thousand or more Vermont residents lose their homes to the world’s most expensive weapons system.
That level of residential destruction is what the U.S. Air Force anticipates in its own environmental impact statement: basing the F-35 nuclear capable fighter-bomber in Vermont will render at least 1,366 houses “unsuitable for residential use.” That’s a scale of human disruption on a par with Hurricane Irene, but the reaction of public officials couldn’t be more different.
Given the unresponsiveness of their representatives, numerous landowners in the three cities around the Burlington Airport have hired attorney James Dumont who, on Dec. 12, initiated a legal review of the airport’s plans under Act 250, Vermont’s comprehensive environmental land use law.
Where elected officials rushed to help those harmed by the weather last year, the same people won’t even engage in substantive discussion of the F-35 base now.
Sen. Patrick Leahy again refused to meet—or even speak on the phone—with Vermonters most affected when more than 100 of them showed up at his Burlington office, which was announced a week in advance. Leahy was in Washington, but his aide in Burlington stonewalled the delegation with open hostility as shown on WPTZ-TV.
Leahy to F-35 Opponents: Drop Dead
Leahy has never met with Vermonters most in harm’s way from the F-35 and came out in support of the $400 billion-and-growing WMD before the Air Force impact statement was made public. (Vermont Public Radio said its cost would be more than $1 trillion.)
Despite their left-leaning images, both Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch have kept very low profiles on the F-35, though both have expressed public support. Vermont congressional delegation comprises all Democrats.
The same day Leahy’s office was turning away his constituents; Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin was making fun of his own. That was while he was flying to Florida, surrounded by military and other F-35 supporters, to make a show of personally listening to the plane take off and land in the rain.
“I'm shocked at how quiet the F-35 is,’’ Gov. Shumlin said, according to an Associated Press (AP) report that omitted the fact that the governor was listening with headphones on. AP also reported, erroneously, that “the trip was funded for [sic] by the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., which supports basing the F-35s in Vermont.”
In fact the Industrial Corp. picked up only the cost of the private jet ferrying cheerleaders for the plane to Eglin Air Force Base. The cost of respective state, local, and federal employees, as well as the cost of using the F-35 and other equipment for the show-and-tell, was borne by the appropriate taxpayers.
While most media coverage of these official performances was insubstantial, Paul Heintz inSeven Days had a more probing view in his weekly listing of the week’s winners and losers. Among the losers, he listed:
F-35 proponents —
It's hard to see what politicians backing the basing of F-35 fighter jets in South Burlington gained from their trip this week to Eglin Air Force Base, other than a lot more flack from skeptical opponents. Gov. Peter Shumlin's remark to VPR's Kirk Carapezza that the jets' critics have "fertile imaginations" seemed particularly insensitive to those whose livelihoods are wrapped up in houses on the planes' flight path.
And why exactly won't Sen. Patrick Leahy personally meet with F-35 opponents, as they demanded this week?
Florida Fly-by More Show Biz than Science
The Governor fared no better in the Green Mountain Daily online, where J. V. Walt wrote:
my goodness, Governor Shumlin's little Florida junket was a complete waste of time and the GBIC's money, wasn't it? The best he can hope for is that this event will be quickly forgotten. It certainly won't change anyone's mind, and it displayed one of Shummy's less endearing political quirks -- his inability to appear plausibly concerned with the opinions of people who disagree with him.
None of those opposed to basing the F-35 in Vermont were even invited on the trip, even though those opponents include lawyers, engineers, legislators and a retired Air Force colonel, who was a Pentagon planner for years. Rosanne Greco, chair of the South Burlington city council that has twice voted (4-1 and 4-0) to oppose basing an advanced war machine in a residential neighborhood in Vermont’s most densely populated area.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger went on the Florida trip and commented that “there is a good deal of conflicting information out there,” without giving any indication of what he’d been doing to resolve those conflicts, or sort out opinion from information. Weinberger has been reflexively but not knowledgeably supporting of the warplane. The Burlington City Council appears divided and has so far taken a position of needing more information.
Winooski Mayor Playing Hamlet-of-the-F-35
That’s the same position taken by the Winooski City Council, whose Mayor Michael O’Brien was the only official who travelled to Florida without having previously taken a position of public support for the F-35. Winooski is in the airport flight path and O’Brien says he still hasn’t made up his mind, although Green Mountain Daily reported his geeky side in play at Eglin AFB:
Winooski Mayor and amateur audiologist Mike O'Brien, the only F-35 agnostic on the trip, performed a scienterrific evaluation of the noise with his iPad. Which unfortunately showed the F-35 blasting 114 decibels to the F-16's 101. (Decibels are logarithmic units, so a difference of 13 dB is quite substantial.) And then he proceeded to make excuses: the F-35 may have seemed louder because it flew closer to him.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s unhealthy to be exposed to sound at 106 dB for as little as four minutes. The CDC also notes that “for every 3 dB the energy doubles.” That suggests that O’Brien’s measurement of a 13 dB difference, if correct, represents a fourfold doubling of the sound.
According to the Air Force environmental impact study it takes sound of only 65 dB to create an area “unsuitable for residential use.”