Vermont’s Military-Industrial-Real Estate Complex

Vermont has an Air National Guard unit based at Burlington International Airport (BTV).  They fly F-16s.  The Air Force intends to eliminate some F-16 bases, keep others and convert some bases for use by the new F-35 warplane.  Burlington is the Air Force’s number one pick to base the F-35.  Why is that?

It’s because Vermont is represented in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D), the dean of that chamber and thus one of the most powerful people in America.  Anyone who tells you different is stupid, lying, or perhaps both.

The F-16 is a loud aircraft; I can attest to this.  The F-35 is louder.  Of all the bases considered for the F-35, Burlington has the densest population near the airfield.  Many houses in the working class neighborhood near BTV have already been purchased and demolished because the noise from BTV was above tolerable limits.

If the F-35 comes here, nearly 7,000 more residents will reside within the unacceptable noise zone, the Air Force reported a few weeks ago.  This was significant, since the USAF had earlier estimated that slightly less than 4,000 people would be affected.  They had to change their number when opponents of the F-35 pointed out that the initial estimate was based on 13-year-old census numbers.

The Air Force also had to admit it incorrectly stated Vermonters support the F-35 by a margin of 80-20.  Actually, Vermonters oppose the F-35 by a margin of 65-35.  Ooops.

Our entire Congressional delegation (Sen. Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), Rep. Peter Welch (D)) all unreservedly support bringing the F-35 to Vermont, as does Governor Peter Shumlin (D) and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger (D).  The F-35 means the economic engine that is the Air Guard base will continue providing jobs and revenue to the city and state, no small thing the week after IBM laid off an estimated 450 well-paid workers.  (IBM won’t give an exact number.  Another story.)

For all the support these guys give the F-35, however, none was willing to hold a public hearing where debate on a policy affecting so many people and Vermont’s much-vaunted quality of life could be debated.  How’s that for New England small town democracy?

Opponents held their own hearing; it was packed.  Pierre Sprey, who designed the F-16 and A-10 warplanes, said the F-35 is clumsy and inept and while it might be a gold mine for politically connected defense contractors, predicted its failure as a weapon of war.

The Burlington Free Press sent the mayor, governor and Congressional delegation a series of serious and reasonable questions about the F-35.  In response the five men released a three-paragraph statement that answered none of the questions and essentially said: “Jobs, trust us, jobs and don’t ask.”

So, why?  Why is this happening?  Why are politicians, some of whom usually do a good job of representing their constituents, so tone-deaf and hostile?

Money, of course.  The biggest local promoters of the F-35 are realtors and developers lusting after the bigger dead zone the F-35 would create around the airport, which, being no longer fit for residential zoning, would be a developer’s nocturnal commission as industrial parks, burger joints and transmission shops fill the empty space.  Dumping another seven thousand working class people onto the Chittenden County housing market will only drive up the price of single-family homes.

Burlington, Vermont, long rated as having some of the best quality of life in America, is might soon look like a slice of Everywhere Else.

© Mark Floegel 2013

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