South Burlington residents met last night with officials from the Burlington International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Vermont National Guard regarding home buyout and noise mitigation initiatives occurring in advance of the arrival of F-35 fighter jets.
The Vermont Air National Guard is based at the Burlington International Airport. It is scheduled to receive 18 F-35 jets beginning in 2019.
The new fighters have a greater noise profile than the current F16’s used by the Guard.
Last September the airport received a $16 million grant in a voluntary program to buy out 39 homes within the 65-decibel and above noise contour area. More than 100 had previously been purchased over the past 20 years.
The South Burlington City Council passed a resolution in late January calling for an end to the home buyout program. City Council Chair Helen Riehle says the buyout is inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan. “The Comprehensive Plan mentions numerous times that we support affordable housing and that we do not want any more affordable housing torn down. That in some ways is the crux of the issue because when the airport through the city of Burlington applied for this money for the buyout they basically said they’d communicated with our city and it was in compliance with our land use plan. And it is not.”
Those attending Thursday’s meeting wrote their questions on cards, which were answered in sequence. The lack of give-and-take annoyed South Burlington City Council Co-chair Meaghan Emery. She also was not pleased to hear homeowners preferring noise insulation must forfeit their right to sue. “He clearly stated that home insulation was not an adequate noise abatement measure. That home acquisition was the only effective measure for that and that would then imply that the FAA is ready to purchase over 900 more homes after already purchasing 200 homes in South Burlington. It seems incredible to me that we would be taking potentially over 1100 affordable and workforce homes away from an area where we need, we’re in desperate need, for workforce housing.”
Burlington International Airport Director of Planning and Development Nick Longo says South Burlington officials are overlooking key components within the airport’s Noise Compatibility Program. “We don’t want to buy houses any more than they do. The next step for additional mitigation is potentially noise insulation. It could be another program called sales assistance. Another one is purchase assurance. So we actually do buy the houses which is an important piece because South Burlington says no more housing acquisitions. Well, let’s be careful with that language in that resolution because this program we would purchase houses, we would sound insulate the houses, and then we would re-sell them on the open market. So that’s important for them not to make assumptions on stopping in general.”
The Burlington International Airport’s Sound Mitigation Committee meets quarterly. It will meet in March but a specific date has not been set.