Opponents of a U.S. Air Force plan to base F-35 fighter jets in Burlington are deciding whether to challenge a federal judge’s decision issued Wednesday that will allow the jets to come to the Vermont Air Guard base beginning in 2019.
The Stop the F-35 Coalition and six Chittenden County residents filed suit against the Secretary of the Air Force alleging that the strict review required under the National Environmental Policy Act when preparing the Environmental Impact Statement for basing the fighter jets at the Vermont National Guard was inadequately conducted.
In a 35-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford found the Air Force's basing decision neither arbitrary nor capricious and concluded “in conjunction with the supporting documentation, 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.”
Stop the F-35 Coalition member and retired Air Force Colonel Roseanne Greco has read about a third of the decision. “It’s very disappointing, obviously, but not entirely surprising. You know this was always a David and Goliath kind of struggle. We have folks who are living around the airport going up against the military industrial political complex. The odds always were stacked against us. And we filed a lawsuit because we firmly believe that there is a lot more information the Air Force did not disclose that would be, I think, important for decision makers to reconsider.”
Coalition attorney James Dumont says they appreciate Judge Crawford’s work. “We just received the decision yesterday. I am reviewing the decision along with the other lawyers that have been working on the case with me. We will be meeting with the clients shortly and after we meet with the clients we will announce whether or not we will appeal.”
Green Ribbons for the F-35 supports basing the jets in Burlington. Founder Nicole Citro believes the federal decision exhausts opponents’ options. “Why keep putting a wedge in the community? The community has stated over and over again and has shown their unwavering support for the F-35 and making sure that the Vermont Air Guard has a continuing mission. That’s just beleaguering the point. It doesn’t do anyone any good. We’ve got two years until this plane gets here. You know let’s come together as a community and start working through whatever issues that they have because this is something that is so important financially for the area. And besides the fact that the community resoundingly supports it.”
Attorney Dumont and members of the Stop the F-35 Coalition will meet Sunday to determine their course of action.
The city of Winooski was an intervenor plaintiff and South Burlington submitted an amicus brief in support of the Stop the F-35 Coalition.
Vermont's Adjutant General Major General Steven Cray says he's glad the lawsuit has been resolved in the Air Force's favor.