The Burlington City Council passed a resolution this week asking Vermont’s governor to stop Air National Guard training flights and divert all Guard resources toward the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Vermont Air National Guard Base at the Burlington International Airport received its first two F-35 fighter jets last September after years of debate over the basing of the planes.It now has 15 of the aircraft and five more will arrive by this summer. Meeting remotely, the Burlington City Council on Monday considered a resolution calling on Governor Phil Scott and the state’s Congressional delegation to “…do everything in their power to halt the F-35 aircrafts’ training flights…during this global emergency and to dedicate resources toward mitigating the local impacts of COVID-19.”
The language mirrors a petition posted on Change.org by F-35 opponent James Marc Leas, who commented during the council’s public forum. “Huge resources of manpower and money should not be diverted into F-35 training flights when we have a pandemic.”
Most callers supported the resolution but several, including Dale Tillson, were critical. “What an insult this must be to the National Guard in this time when their members have given so much to Vermont, the nation and our community with their ever-present help during this COVID-19 crisis. I encourage all councilors to rip this BS resolution up.”
Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng criticized resolution sponsor Perri Freeman in part because the resolution’s original language so closely mirrored the Change.org petition. “Did you know that the people who made this petition did send him a letter and was just wondering people who made this resolution if they have read the response of the governor to those petitions?”
City Council President Max Tracy: “Councilor Freeman would you like to answer that question?”
Freeman: “I am not aware of a direct response from the governor’s office.”
Dieng told the council that Governor Scott has already responded to the question posed in the resolution after the petitioners, who helped draft the resolution, went to the governor and got a no. “The petitions did not start with those who are monitoring the airport. They wanted to do it by themselves. I don’t want the F-35’s here. My point is we ask them nicely. If there is a way we reduce the flight of the F-35. Fifty-percent will give us bargaining power. We can send it to them and ask nicely. Knowing the governor already said no I don’t see myself bringing the resolution to him again.”
Resolution sponsor Freeman, a Central District Progressive, said whether or not the petitioners approached the governor independently, it’s important that the city weigh in. “The community is incredibly stressed by these flights at this time. 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, I would say the majority of people, in the community have been feeling.”
Ward 4 Democrat Sarah Carpenter says the resolution is intended to address current concerns. “This is not a referendum on the Air National Guard nor does it answer the questions of the long-term activity at the air guard. I think this really just tries to focus the conversation on what’s happening right now.”
The resolution passed on an 11 to 1 vote.
In a press release earlier this month the Vermont Air Guard said it would continue flying operations and support of the state’s COVID-19 response.