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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Judge Dismisses F-35 Lawsuit, Paving Way for Jets to Arrive

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 9:32 AM

click to enlarge Air Force F-35 fighter, scheduled to replace the Vermont Air National Guard's F-16s.
  • Air Force F-35 fighter, scheduled to replace the Vermont Air National Guard's F-16s.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by opponents of the Air Force's decision to bring a squadron of next-generation F-35 fighter jets to Burlington International Airport.

The 35-page decision by Judge Geoffrey Crawford, released Wednesday, removes one of the last major impediments to delivering 18 F-35s, which are larger and louder than the F-16s currently based at the airport, to the Vermont Air National Guard in 2019.

A group of Winooski and South Burlington residents, along with the city of Winooski, sued after the basing decision, arguing that the Air Force had failed to conduct a thorough review of the environmental impact of the F-35s. They asked Crawford to block the planes and order the Air Force to conduct a new review, known as an environmental impact statement (EIS).

But Crawford was not persuaded.
"It is clear that [the Air Force] took a 'hard look' at the environmental consequences of the basing decision, including the specific areas about which plaintiffs complain," Crawford wrote. "It is also clear that the EIS process served its second purpose of generating public interest and examination of the agency's decision-making process. The record demonstrates that a large number of Vermont residents turned out for meetings or sent in comments about the process."

Currently, nearly 2,000 homes with more than 4,600 people — mostly in Winooski and South Burlington — are in zones with high levels of noise from the F-16s. The louder F-35s will increase the noise zones to affect nearly 3,000 homes with more than 6,600 people, attorneys said during a July court hearing.

While acknowledging the noise issue, Crawford said the Air Force had done its due diligence in examining the problem.

"The EIS documents the adverse environmental changes that basing the F-35 aircraft at VANG will bring to the surrounding community," Crawford wrote. "These changes received thoughtful and detailed consideration. The agency's decision to locate the aircraft at VANG reflects the tradeoffs between Defendant's mission-driven needs and the interests of the community in limiting noise and other environmental impacts that are frequently present in major federal projects." 

James Dumont, the Bristol attorney who represented the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The F-35s will fly out of the Burlington International Airport nearly 5,500 times a year, Crawford wrote in his ruling. 

F 35 Decision

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Mark Davis

Mark Davis

Mark Davis is a Seven Days staff writer.

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