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City Attorney Releases Opinion on F-35 Legal Issues

U.S. Air Force

Burlington’s city attorney has released a report indicating the City Council has no authority to stop the military from basing F-35 fighter jets at the International Airport.

The Air Force is in the last phase of a process to determine whether it will base new state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base, which shares runway use with the Burlington International Airport. Although the airport is in South Burlington, its leaseholder is the city of Burlington. Progressive city councilors plan to introduce a resolution that would prohibit the plane from being based at the airport during a meeting October 28th.
The city attorney was asked by the mayor and several city councilors to prepare an opinion responding to potential legal concerns and released her conclusions on Thursday afternoon.
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood negates many of the opponents’ arguments in her14-page memo. She nullifies claims that the city could be held liable for damages and noise. Blackwood also cautions that if the city denies F-35 access, the FAA could perceive that as a violation of existing agreements and deny federal funding. Blackwood notes that as the council considers the new resolutions, voicing opposition is protected speech, but if action is taken to block the jets, it faces the risks outlined in her memo.

Bristol Attorney Jim Dumont works with the Stop the F-35 Coalition and represents residents of the Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski area adjacent to the airport. Dumont disputes the city attorney’s conclusions, saying she answered the wrong questions.

Green Ribbons for the F-35 creator Nicole Citro says the attorney has confirmed that the City Council cannot do anything on a legal basis to block the jets nor dictate to federal authorities how the airport can be used.

Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation President Frank Cioffi has been active advocating for the F-35 from an economic development perspective. Cioffi notes that the public comment period to the Air Force regarding the F-35 basing decision is over, and the city weighed in on the issue 10 months ago.

The Air Force could make a decision on basing the F-35 jet in early November.

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