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Pentagon pushes Vermont F-35 base, Democrats roll over

Vermont Democrats defend boondoggles and militarization in military push for Vermont F-35 base

Opponents of the F-35 nuclear-capable stealth fighter bomber being based in Vermont are planning non-violent direct action against the Democratic supporters of this multi-billion dollar military boondoggle.  They will start in December with Vermont’s senior Senator, Patrick Leahy, who has offered no cogent analysis of the issue beyond reflexive support of the military.   This he has in common with most of Vermont’s political leadership, which has taken the Air Force’s lead unquestioningly on this issue.

At the same time, project managers of the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program ever ($396 billion and counting) are issuing stern warnings to Lockheed, the plane’s builder, that it had better shape up on its performance and start solving the F-35’s problems in a cost-effective way – since the plane is already a decade behind schedule and 100% over budget. The initial anticipated cost-per-plane of $89 million is now $207 million for fiscal year 20012, and still rising.

The Marines plan to set up the first operational squadron of F-35s in Yuma, Arizona, by December, with little or no local opposition, although they don’t yet have approval to fly the planes there.  The first of the F-35s arrived in Yuma on November 17 and the full complement of 16 planes is expected to be complete in early 2013, but may eventually number as many as 182.  The Marines will be the first military service to use the F-35, but not till 2015 at the earliest.  Plans for a possible F-35 base in Tucson have met with resistance similar to Vermont’s.

Vermonters Plan to Confront Their Senator

Already expressed in petitions, demonstrations, forums, websites, legal action and other tactics, Vermont’s opposition to the F-35 will soon try non-violent direct action.  In response to the refusal of members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation even to meet with the thousands of Vermonters most directly impacted by the F-35 base, the Stop the F-35 Coalition has issued a call to action for a “crowd supported” request to Senator Leahy to conduct a public hearing:

Our plan is to gather a large crowd at Senator Leahy’s office one day in the second week of December to demand that he organize such a meeting very early in 2013. We plan to bring a crowd to his office and to stay until he agrees to such a meeting. We are not planning any illegal actions. We simply want him to meet with the impacted Vermonters.

Like Leahy, independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch have stayed almost invisible since expressing early, pro forma support for Air Force plans, even before the Air Force issued its environmental impact statement.  In one response to a concerned constituent, Welch took a position of disinterest in the facts of the matter, but suggested the constituent contact the Air Force directly.

The city council of South Burlington, where the base would be located, has already voted its opposition to the F-35 base, by a 4-1 vote last summer.  The council president is retired Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco, who spent years of her professional military life as a Pentagon planner.  Her close analysis of some of the flaws in the Air Force environmental impact statement has been challenged by some F-35 supporters, but no one has yet managed to refute it.   Winooski’s city council has not taken a forthright stand, but with a large portion of its community in the uninhabitable noise zone, it wants more information.

“Save Our Skies” Petitions Air Force, Congress for Facts

Another, recently formed groupSave Our Skies from the F35s” – has launched a petition on change.org asking Leahy, Sanders, Welch, and the Air Force to provide the documented basis for rating Burlington as a good site for the F-35.  Col. Greco pointed out months ago that the Air Force scoring sheets rated the area as having no houses, even though its own environmental impact statement identified 2,944 houses that would become uninhabitable with the activation of the F-35 base.   The petition asks the congressional delegation and the Air Force to base their decision on facts and not hide information, saying in part:

So why has Burlington International Airport been chosen as a preferred site when it is so close to a large city center? We believe it was a simple error. The scoring sheet asked if there were homes in the accident and noise areas, and the answer for Burlington was “no,” despite the 2944 homes mentioned in the Air Force’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. Ignoring this error, our Congressional delegates are supporting the F-35 beddown in Vermont. Previous FOIA requests by the Burlington Free Press for the public release of the complete scoring data have been denied by the Air Force….  

We also request that you postpone the final decision until after we are able to review the score sheets. We have a right to investigate the error that may ruin our communities with slashed housing values, lower tax revenues, abandoned homes, higher crime rates and declining schools. 

Vermont Officials Mostly Duck Accountability

Leahy, Sanders, and Welch have not explained why they have so little interest in factual discrepancies that could have such a detrimental impact on so many of their constituents.  Beyond reflexive support for the Air Force, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger have been similarly AWOL on the substantive questions raised by basing nuclear-armed offensive weapons in Vermont.   With the silence of legislators and other city councils, City council president Col. Greco is the highest ranking elected official to address the issue seriously.

The proposed F-35 base at Burlington International Airport in would have the severest impact on Winooski and South Burlington (where it’s located), even though it’s owned and operated by the City of Burlington, creating conflicts of interest in all directions.   The people living closest to the proposed F-35 base are the most opposed, not surprisingly because that will suffer the brunt of the physical and psychological impact of the noisy fighter jet; because houses in their community are already being destroyed by the federal government since current aircraft noise already makes them unlivable; and because the economic impact on their communities is likely to be devastating, with lost jobs, houses, tax base, and services.

There is a class warfare element to this as well, since these communities are relatively poorer than the surrounding area.  Greater support for the F-35 comes from Burlington and other more affluent communities, and they’re perfectly willing to let Winooski and South Burlington bear most of the burden for an F-35 base whose economic benefits will mostly go to others.

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