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Friday, April 24, 2020

Data Show Vermont Air Guard F-35 Flights Spiked in April

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2020 at 2:57 PM

Two F-35s - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Two F-35s
The Vermont Air National Guard dramatically increased the number of F-35 flights from its South Burlington base in the first week of April, despite official claims that there had been “no change” in flight operations.

The 158th Fighter Wing flew five times as many times during the week of March 29 to April 4 as it did the previous week, an increase residents of the Burlington area — many of whom were stuck working from home during the coronavirus pandemic — noted with dismay.

In the week beginning March 22, Guard pilots participated in just eight flights, aka "sorties," from the runway the Guard shares with the Burlington International Airport. In the previous two weeks, there had been six and eight flights, respectively.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Burlington Council Tells Guard to Cool Their Jets During Pandemic

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2020 at 10:19 PM

Two F-35s - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • File: Kevin McCallum
  • Two F-35s
An overwhelming majority of the Burlington City Council supported a resolution Monday that asks Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont's congressional delegation to "do everything in their power to" suspend F-35 training flights during the coronavirus pandemic.

The resolution — which was sponsored by all six Progs and Sarah Carpenter, a Democrat — asks the powers-that-be to reassign Vermont Air National Guard members from F-35 flights to coronavirus response efforts "to reduce additional anxiety for our residents during this global emergency."

It passed 11 to 1, with Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) casting the lone no vote. The council met via videconference.

"It's been clear that the community is incredibly stressed by these planes at this time," said Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District), the resolution's lead sponsor. "It's not meant to be impolite or create problems; I think it's really just honestly addressing a pretty straightforward concern that many, many people [have]."

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Burlington City Council to Consider Asking Scott to Suspend F-35 Flights

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 6:24 PM

An F-35 - FILE
  • File
  • An F-35
The Burlington City Council on Monday will consider a resolution asking the governor to suspend the Vermont National Guard's F-35 training flights and reassign Guard members to coronavirus response efforts.

Introduced by Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District), the resolution calls on Gov. Phil Scott to direct "all 4,000 members" of the Guard to ferry medical supplies to hospitals; to deliver food to vulnerable Vermonters; and to "build decent safe housing for the homeless" near the airport.

"We are long-time opponents of basing F-35 jets at Burlington’s Airport. But, like many Vermonters, we are strong supporters of the men and women in the Guard in their proper role of protecting the people of Vermont," the resolution reads. "If you focus on actions consistent with your stated goals and mobilize the full Guard in the fight, you might be able to halt the spread of the virus, flattening the exponentially growing curve, avoid overflowing hospitals, and save many lives.”
Freeman did not immediately respond to an interview request Friday, but City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) confirmed that the resolution is a carbon copy of a letter that a group of F-35 opponents submitted to the governor in late March. One of the activists, James Marc Leas, asked Burlington Progressives to put the topic on a city council agenda, and Freeman took up the cause, Tracy said.

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Pandemic Grounds Some Commercial Flights but F-35s Continue to Prowl Skies

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 8:52 PM

Two F-35s - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • File: Kevin McCallum
  • Two F-35s
Commercial air traffic at Burlington International Airport has taken a nosedive, but across the runway, the Vermont Air National Guard continues to send its new F-35s roaring into the skies daily. 

The juxtaposition of the recent plunge in civilian air traffic with an increase in the number of F-35s operating at the base has made their presence more pronounced of late. The first two next-generation jets arrived last September, but the Guard now boasts a fleet of 15.

“People are noticing them a little bit more often because all other flights are significantly lower right now,” said Nic Longo, deputy director of aviation at the airport.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Contamination From Vermont National Guard Base Is Reaching the Winooski River

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2020 at 5:17 PM

John Belter looking at a brook on his farm that has been found to be contaminated - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • John Belter looking at a brook on his farm that has been found to be contaminated
Toxic chemicals from the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington have not only polluted nearby wells but are reaching the Winooski River and its tributaries.

That’s the takeaway of a new report on just how extensively the contamination has spread beyond the base, according to state officials.

“It’s a large plume. In some places, it’s probably over a mile long,” said Richard Spiese, a hazardous site manager with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “And it goes from the source area all the way to the Winooski River.”

Multiple tributaries running from the base — located on the north side of the Burlington International Airport runway — are contaminated with PFAS, the same perfluorinated chemicals used to make products such as Teflon cookware and waterproof clothing. The chemicals, which were discovered in 2016 in wells around the former ChemFab factory in North Bennington, were also used in firefighting foam on the base and at airports around the nation.

Their durability has earned PFAS the moniker "forever chemicals," and communities, airports and municipal water systems are spending billions to understand and clean up the contamination.

Last year, Seven Days reported how PFAS chemicals have contaminated a well at the Belter dairy farm just north of the base. The well had been used by John Belter’s family to water his 400 cows for decades, and after the discovery, the state paid for a filtration system.

But additional testing was needed to better understand the extent of the contamination, including in creeks and rivers. Now that report – a 991-page volume released by the Air Guard recently — clearly shows that the chemicals have migrated off the base and into groundwater, creeks and the Winooski itself, Spiese said.

Proving the base is the source of the contamination may take additional time, but the connection it makes is very strong, he said.

“I think the data is there to show that PFAS from the base is what is impacting the Belter well,” Spiese said.

Belter was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Spiese noted that the Guard has been cooperative and has been performing the costly, detailed studies needed.

The report, by the Virginia-based engineering firm Parsons, states that the “data indicates an exposure pathway exists” between the base and the river. Regarding the well, however, the report merely states that such a pathway “may be complete.” The report says additional study is needed to confirm that, and other sources may also be responsible.

While he has yet to finish his analysis of the report, Spiese likened that last claim to an obviously guilty defendant pleading not guilty at the start of a legal process process.

“It’s all part of the game, and we’ll get them to admit it one way or another eventually, even if they don’t come out and say it,” he said.

He noted that Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is spending $60 million to clean up the groundwater contamination around its plant in North Bennington, but it has yet to admit responsibility.

In a press release, the Guard acknowledged the findings and stressed that drinking water in the area is safe, noting the businesses and homes are served by the Champlain Water District, whose water supply has not been affected.

"This has been a very thorough process to determine potential impacts from the use of PFAS on our base, and I am encouraged that we can now move toward the next phase of this critically important work." said Col. Adam Rice, 158th Fighter Wing vice commander. "We take this issue very seriously and want to reassure our employees and the community that drinking water has not been impacted, and there is no threat to human health."

Spiese agrees that human health is not immediately at risk unless someone were to catch and eat fish from the small tributaries most affected, which he notes is unlikely. 

There is no PFAS limit for surface waters in Vermont yet, but the drinking water standard is 20 parts per trillion for the five compounds regulated by the state. One of the tributaries tested at 10,619 parts per trillion — 500 times the drinking water limit. 
The numbers in red indicate contamination levels that exceed state drinking water standards. - PARSONS
  • Parsons
  • The numbers in red indicate contamination levels that exceed state drinking water standards.

Once the contaminated water reaches the Winooski, however, it is quickly diluted. Tests in the Winooski downstream from the tributaries of concern showed levels below 10 parts per trillion, just slightly higher than the levels detected in the river above the base.

Spiese said he was “relieved” that numbers in the Winooski itself are so low, and he doubts that the state will respond by issuing an order not to eat fish from the river. That remains an option, however.

More study is needed to come up with a remediation plan, a process that could take years. The base already operates a trench system that captures some of the water running off the most contaminated area, pumps it back uphill and treats it.

That location — which has produced water samples nearing 50,000 parts per trillion, or 2,500 times the state standard  — is where firefighters for decades set all manner of things ablaze and practiced putting them out with the PFAS-laden foam. The base has since switched to a less toxic foam.

Future cleanup could involve removing and disposing the most contaminated soil. Contaminated soil can also sometimes be kept in place by installing underground curtains and capping the area to keep water from leaching through. Other technologies might be able to bind the contamination to the soil so it doesn’t seep out, Spiese said.

“It will be challenging; it will be very expensive. But that’s not to say it’s impossible,” he said.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

After Years of Planning, F-35s Land in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 7:34 PM

Lt. Col. Tony Marek speaks to the media after flying one of the Air Guard's two new F-35s from Texas to Burlington. - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Lt. Col. Tony Marek speaks to the media after flying one of the Air Guard's two new F-35s from Texas to Burlington.
For more than a decade, Chief Master Sgt. Dwight Rolston has been helping prepare the Vermont Air National Guard base and its members for the arrival of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.

Early Thursday afternoon, he was the first to confirm that the long wait was over.

“There they are!” Rolston called out across the bright tarmac crowded with media and guard officials.

He pointed south across the runway to a spot on the horizon between Camel's Hump and the control tower at Burlington International Airport.

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Citing Email About Afterburners, F-35 Critics Want New Noise Study

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 9:38 PM

Rosanne Greco (left), a retired Air Force colonel who opposes the F-35, and her attorney, James Dumont, address a crowd in Burlington Thursday. - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Rosanne Greco (left), a retired Air Force colonel who opposes the F-35, and her attorney, James Dumont, address a crowd in Burlington Thursday.
Opponents of the decision to base F-35 fighter jets in Burlington say newly obtained documents suggest the aircraft will likely be far louder than the U.S. Air Force and Vermont Air National Guard have previously acknowledged.

With the arrival of the next generation fighters just weeks away, critics led by Rosanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel, are demanding the secretary of the Air Force block the basing of the plane at Burlington International Airport until new sound studies can be conducted.

They argue that sound studies predicting how the fighter would affect the area assumed that the jets would use their afterburners less than 5 percent of time. New documents, however, suggest afterburner usage might be 10 times that much — or more, Greco said. 

“The Air Force finally had to admit to the public what they knew for a long time — that at the large Air Force bases where the F-35 is currently flying … they are taking off in afterburner 50 to 100 percent of the time,” Greco said at a press conference Thursday outside Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) Burlington office.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

More Homes Are Inside High-Decibel Areas on New F-35 Sound Maps

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2019 at 7:44 PM

The Burlington International Airport draft noise exposure map report - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The Burlington International Airport draft noise exposure map report
The arrival of the louder F-35 military jets at Burlington International Airport will nearly triple the number of homes affected by high noise levels, according to sound maps released Tuesday. 

A total of 2,640 dwelling units will be affected by noise at or above 65 decibels in 2023, compared to 976 on sound maps for 2015. 

The new projections, based on computer modeling, suggest high-decibel noise will affect larger portions of Winooski and Williston, and slightly less of certain parts of South Burlington. 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Vermont Senate Approves No-Nukes Resolution

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 5:07 PM

Sen. Anthony Pollina, speaking in favor of S.R.5 - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Anthony Pollina, speaking in favor of S.R.5
After a brief debate Wednesday, the state Senate voted by a 22-7 tally for a nonbinding resolution "strongly opposing the basing of any nuclear weapon delivery system in Vermont." 

Those in favor included 20 Democratic and/or Progressive senators plus Sen. James McNeil (R-Rutland) and Richard Westman (R-Lamoille). The other four Republicans voted "no," plus Sens. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) and John Rodgers and Bobby Starr (both D-Essex/Orleans). Sen. Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) was absent from the floor during the roll call.

The resolution, S.R.5, got a thorough overhaul in the Senate Government Operations Committee before heading to the floor. The original wording repeatedly mentioned the F-35 fighter jet, which the Vermont Air National Guard is scheduled to begin flying from its base at the Burlington International Airport this fall. A group called Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont pushed for the resolution over fears that the F-35 is capable of carrying nuclear weaponry.

But the version approved by the Senate barely refers to the F-35 at all. Instead, it describes Vermont's history as "a national leader in opposing the spread of nuclear weapons" and recounts committee testimony describing instances where the military apparently based such weapons in Vermont.


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Friday, May 17, 2019

New Airport Noise Map Is Not Expected to Lead to More Home Demolitions

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 6:00 AM

Air Force F-35 - FILE
  • File
  • Air Force F-35
A new noise exposure map adjusted for the coming arrival of F-35s at Burlington International Airport is not expected to trigger any home demolitions.

"I don’t anticipate homes being removed," airport aviation director Gene Richards told Seven Days Wednesday.

The map will be released to the public during an airport open house from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 29. The City of Winooski will host its own open house the following day from 5 to 7 p.m. at the O'Brien Community Center.

Richards declined to release a copy of the noise map Wednesday, saying it was still in draft form. Seven Days has filed a public records request for the document. 

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