Vermont High Court Rules in Favor of Basing Plan for F-35s

Opponents of the Air Force’s plan to base 18 F-35A fighter jets at Burlington Air Guard Station lost their appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court last week after the court ruled that the city of Burlington, Vt., did not need to obtain a state land use and development permit to account for the additional noise impacts and new facilities associated with the fifth-generation aircraft.

Opponents of the Air Force’s plan believe the new aircraft will be significantly louder than the F-16 it will replace and poses a greater safety risk to the surrounding community. Last May, the state environmental court said the upgrades needed to accommodate the F-35s did not require a state permit because the Guard served a federal purpose, reported VTDigger.org.  

“Our conclusion is similar to that reached by the Environmental Board,” said Associate Justice Harold Eaton. “The proposed improvements related to the fighter jet were being made by the federal government and would be under federal control, and therefore there was no state purpose,” according to the ruling, which upheld the environmental court’s decision.

Retired Justice James Morse, who was specially assigned to the case, acknowledged that the court disregarded the “overpowering assault on the senses produced by the F-35A aircraft.”

“The record evidence of the F-35A’s noise impact on the area surrounding the Burlington International Airport is an alarming wake-up call,” Morse said. He said the court was correct to say federal law preempts local noise regulations for aircraft, but noted that the plaintiffs could claim the new jets will create a public nuisance.

“While a public-nuisance suit may be less than what the affected residents had hoped for, it may at least provide some redress for an injury they are powerless to prevent,” Morse said.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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