On Town Meeting Day in March, Burlington voters passed a resolution that asked city officials to request the cancelation of the basing of F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base at the Burlington International Airport. Although the mayor refused to sign it, the city council approved forwarding the resolution to the Secretary of the Air Force. In the following weeks, two other city councils passed similar resolutions. On Tuesday, members of the business community were at the airport to warn of what they believe are the negative implications of losing the fighter jets.
Burlington, Winooski and South Burlington have sent resolutions to the Air Force asking that a new mission be considered for the Vermont Air National Guard base rather than the basing of the F-35 fighter jet.
Vermont Business Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss says the base has been in operation since the 1940’s as a fighter wing and there is no other mission. “The opponents are calling for a change in the mission of the Vermont Air National Guard. The base here is a fighter wing. F-16’s are being phased out and the next generation of fighter jet is the F-35. So in calling for in the case of South Burlington and Winooski in calling for a cancellation of that mission they are in effect calling for a base closure because we have no other mission here.”
Ventriss adds that the Air Force has already spent $50 million to date preparing the Air Guard base for the arrival of the jets in the fall of 2019. But she says it’s unsettling to have opponents constantly challenging a critical economic engine. “There are 1000 people on its payroll. Those wages are more than $40 million and that is in line with some of the other major employers in our region. The Air Guard contributes to Burlington Airport exceeding $2.6 million a year to respond to any emergency at the airport. That’s fire and safety equipment, the trucks and the rescue vehicles. If the mission were to change we would see a tremendously diminished workforce. We would see a very serious impact to the taxpayers of the city of Burlington.”
Business owner Nicole Citro created the Green Ribbons for the F-35 campaign in 2012 to support the new mission and is gratified to see members of the business community stepping up to express support for the fighter mission. “We are significantly in the midst of the process of the planes coming. But I would like to think that they would not roll it back. But at the same time you just don’t know where the tipping point may be where the Air Force will go okay we’re just hearing it from all sides that this council and this council and this council are saying that they don’t want it. But I’d like to think that they’re looking into it a little bit deeper and seeing the history of what has gone on in this area and that it’s a small contingency of opponents that are manipulating the city councils and it’s not really what is resonating within this community. The support is significantly there.”
Longtime F-35 opponent retired Colonel Roseanne Greco calls the business community’s reasoning for supporting the aircraft flawed. “They make the leap from the if you don’t support this particular military aircraft then the airport will shut down. The United States Air Force has told us that if the F-35 is not based at the Vermont Air National Guard then another military aircraft would be chosen for the Vermont Air National Guard. So we have the Air Force assurance in writing saying the Guard will always have a flying mission and the F-35 is not necessary for that to take place.”
The business leaders have also sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force noting a petition was filed last year during public comments with 18,000 signatures from the region supporting the F-35 mission.