Air Force bristles at criticism of F-35 site selection process for Burlington
by Anne Galloway vtdigger.org Last week a South Burlington official alleged the US Air Force made a mistake in a scoring system used to rank Burlington International Airport as a top flight base for the new F-35 fighter jet.
The Air Force responded ASAP with a press release attesting that the early analysis of the site had been “100% validated” and the score issued for the airport was correct. Accusations that its analysis of the environmental impact of F-35s on Vermont communities were flawed are incorrect, according to a statement issued from Vermont National Guard Adj. Gen. Michael Dubie’s office.
Col. Roseanne Greco, a South Burlington resident, accused the Air Force of making a mistake in scoring the environmental impact of noise on the surrounding communities. She said in several television interviews, including one on WPTZ last week, that the Air Force gave a higher score to the Burlington location than it should have when it failed to recognize the affect of higher noise levels on about 1,000 homes in the vicinity. Typically, she told the TV anchor, an airport surrounded by homes would have received a score of zero. Greco’s inside information about the scoring results came from an anonymous source high up in the Air Force management food chain. Greco said she couldn’t release the name of her source.
The airport now hosts F-16s flown by the Vermont Air Guard, and the new fighter jets are purported to be much louder. Proponents of the F-35 plan, including Vermont’s congressional delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin say the new planes will bring hundreds of jobs to Chittenden County; opponents say the noise will lower property values and drive residents out of several communities, including South Burlington.
Community opposition to the F-35 “bed down” plans has mounted in towns near the airport, including Winooski and South Burlington.
Greco, who is city council president in South Burlington and led the effort oppose the project in a city vote, said the Air Force had made erroneous assumptions when it first issued an a rating number for the airport because it was based on an incorrect environmental impact score. Had the score been accurately reported in 2009, Greco said Burlington never would have been in the running as one of two sites for the F-35s identified nationwide. She asked the Air Force to provide the data from the rating process.
The Air Force issued a statement asserting that its process for determining the base location in Burlington was “validated”. In a blow-by-blow analysis of the history of the project, the Air Force outlined its decision-making process that began in 2008. The military agency emphasized that it uses “criteria-based analysis to identify locations that are best suited to support any given mission.”
In phase one of the site analysis, the Air Force identified “no incompatible development issues below the 65 decibel Day-Night Average Sound Level noise contours.”
In phase two, the Air Force identified “some residential encroachment and sensitive noise receptors adjacent to the airfield” and considered this information during the selection process.
The environmental impact statement, the third phase of the project, included noise contours “for the range of potential F-35A beddown actions at Burlington.”
The Air Force also emphasized its commitment to transparency. Greco had asked for detailed records of the scoring questions and answers. Her request was granted.
In an interview on Wednesday morning, Greco said she is more convinced than ever that the Air Force made a mistake when it included erroneous data in its assessment of the impact of noise levels on surrounding communities.
The data incorrectly assumed that there are no homes within the high noise level area (65 decibels or more) and no structures in the accident potential zones, she said.
The flight path of the F-16 based at Burlington International Airport includes swaths of residential housing and buildings in the accident zones. The F-35 would follow the same path, but because of the higher noise levels associated with the aircraft it would have a larger environmental footprint and affect communities like Winooski that are not currently affected by F-16 noise.
Greco alleges that the incorrect information was used in a scoring system that elevated Burlington to the top of the Air Force list.
“They said no homes within noise area and no structures in clear (accident) zone,” Greco said. “That’s how they’ve answered the questions. Because they answered both questions no, Burlington was awarded six points. What I have been told is a three point (reduction) alone would have taken Burlington out of being a preferred basing site (at the top of the Air Force list) and it wouldn’t have even made the top three.”
Burlington is in competition with guard bases in Jacksonville, Fla., and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, S.C.
The resistance from Vermont communities could help McEntire’s bid for the F-35, according to a report from The State, a local newspaper in South Carolina.
In all, 205 guard bases were originally considered for the F-35 base. The Air Force is looking for two sites.