A coalition of more than 40 religious and spiritual leaders from the Burlington region is appealing to Vermont’s leaders to reconsider their support for the Air Force plan to base F-35 fighter jets at the Burlington International Airport.
In December 2013 the Air Force announced that the Burlington International Airport would be the first Air Guard base to host F-35 fighter jets. Opponents have fought the decision ever since, concerned about noise, environmental and economic impacts that could occur. A lawsuit challenging the siting of the planes was filed by the Stop the F-35 Coalition and is expected to be heard this spring.
With the matter about to be considered in court, the religious leaders are asking Vermont’s leaders to reconsider their support of the fighter jet.
Rabbi Joshua Chasen, speaking Tuesday in Winooski, says it’s rare for an ad hoc group of religious leaders to come together to express their concerns over what he calls great injustice. “More than 40 of us are crying out against the rush to base F-35 fighter bombers at our airport because of our concern for the safety and general well-being of our neighbors. Basing F-35 jets in Burlington before all the questions about noise and safety are answered, indeed, before all of the legal requirements for such a basing are met is morally questionable to say the least.”
Retired Unitarian Universalist Minister Roddy O’Neil Cleary says there are a number of social justice issues surrounding the basing of the F-35. “The people who are most intimately affected are people who have really have no voice in this decision. They’re the ones who live in the crash zone and in the intensive noise zone. They do not have the means to simply move to another area. Even the Air Force admits that minorities and people of low income are going to be disproportionately affected by the basing of this plane. So social justice really dictates that we speak up for the voiceless.”
Reverend Peter Cook is the senior minister at the First Congregational Church in Burlington. He says while there were public discussions, many questions were left unanswered or scuttled. “The way a lot of these public discussions were set up were not formatted in a way that helped us to discern the truth or the facts or to really have a rigorous look at the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Air Force. There were a lot of powerful economic forces that really wanted to see the F-35 based here.”
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, had not yet seen the letter. Like the state’s two Senators, he supports the F-35 in Burlington. “The F-35 basing here has benefits to the airport. It has benefits to our guard and it has benefits to the local economy. I’m confident that our guard is serious when they say that they’re going to consult with the neighbors and try to do everything possible to address their concerns, noise concerns, safety concerns.”
The F-35's are scheduled to arrive at the Burlington International Airport in 2020.