When Governor Peter Shumlin and Mayors from Burlington and Winooski joined Vermont business leaders at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida just about one year ago, they were hoping to put the fierce debate over the F-35 to rest. They support the planes, saying they'll secure jobs.
"Listening to them is an education," Shumlin said during the visit.
They went to hear the controversial jets. "I'm satisfied that the F-35 is a different sound, but it's a comparable sound," said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.
"I didn't see a staggering difference," said Winooski Mayor Michael O'Brien.
"It's surprising to me how quiet the F-35 is. The F-16 makes more of screeching sound, the F-35 is a duller roar," Gov. Shumlin said.
The F-35 debate had been going for nearly a year at that point and the Florida visit did not change opponents' views that the next generation fighter jets are too noisy and too dangerous to have at the Burlington Airport.
The same day officials were in Florida, demonstrators in Burlington demanded a meeting with Senator Patrick Leahy. It was just one of dozens of demonstrations since the Air Force began looking at Burlington for the F-35. Citizens working to draw attention to their concerns -- and not just with signs. A protest in June featured a six minute amplified recording of the F-35.
The debate dragged on while the selection process did. In the spring of 2012, the Air Force named Burlington and a base in Utah as a preferred sites for the jets. But the selection hinged on the Environmental Impact Statement and the deadline for that review kept getting pushed back. That gave supporters and opponents more time to make their arguments over and over. Supporters tying the new fleet to the Vermont National Guard's future and economic vitality for the region. Opponents concerned about noise, safety and a growing military presence.
Supporters launched the green ribbon campaign, complete with rallies and television ads.
And opponents spoke out at community meetings. Jimmy Leas even ran to lead the Vermont National Guard. His late candidacy last winter was a statement against the jets -- in the heart of the State House.
This September the Environmental Impact statement showed Burlington is still the preferred site for up to 24 F-35s and leaving the final decision to Air Force officials.
But opponents quickly turned to Burlington's City Council for a last move. "My hope would be that the Burlington City Council would vote to block this, so that we could at least understand the risks involved," said Roseanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel and South Burlington homeowner.
The idea was that Burlington Airport is controlled by the city and the council could vote against the jets. But Burlington's City Attorney said that would be a tough legal argument. The Council ended up supporting the jets.
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