The United States Air Force will decide whether or not to station its newest fighter jet in Vermont by this December. Wednesday night, folks on both sides of the debate had the chance to sound off at St. Michael's College.
The discussions included many of the in-depth variables at play in this decision since the matter took off last spring. But, despite volumes of research many of the most divisive talking points still lack solid answers.
An evenly split crowd gathered at St. Michael's College to listen to the loudest voices in the on-going F-35 debate. Proponents said the next generation fighter jet will be a boost for business, and note that Air National Guard flights account for only five percent of air traffic out of Burlington International Airport.
"Six minutes a day, four days a week, 1,100 jobs," said Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation President Frank Cioffi, of the potential moves impacts. His organization is a non-profit economic development group.
Opponents said jobs aren't really on the line now that the Air Force has halted plans to phase out the F-16. South Burlington City Councilor Roseanne Greco used her opening statement to quote extensively from Air Force documents. "At least over 4-thousand homes will now be unsuitable for residential use," she argued.
Greco said the F-35 will make noise levels in areas surrounding the airport unbearable and could cause permanent damage to children's hearing and learning capabilities.
"The hysteria around noise and housing values and what's going to happen to babies is just that, it's misplaced hysteria," said Tom Torti, with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Neither side can agree on a data set. Proponents tout a summer study put together by the G.B.I.C. which indicates the new plane won't hurt property values. "This is a serious problem, because the G.B.I.C. study has gotten tremendous publicity and it's wrong," said opposition lawyer Jim Dumont.
Opponents point to the Air Force's study as proof that the new planes will be four times louder than the F-16s. But those studies looked at takeoff techniques that are no longer used. Ultimately, the public debate may be purely academic as the Air Force is unlikely to relinquish final say.
Vermont's congressional delegation, Governor Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger all support bringing the F-35 to Vermont. The Airforce lists Burlington as one of two preferred sites under consideration for housing the new jet.