Burlington- Filling Contois Auditorium beyond capacity and spilling into its outer chambers, an enormous crowd packed the Burlington City Council meeting on Monday night in eager anticipation of last ditch arguments over the basing of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Burlington International Airport. Voting 10-4 to reject a measure that would have barred BTV from accepting the F-35, the City Council then rejected by even wider margin a compromise measure to set of new noise limits in affected neighborhoods and prevent the acceptance of the aircraft until its second round of basing by the Air Force. Zealously backed by Vermont’s congressional delegation of Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch the roosting of the F-35 at BTV has illustration a sharply polarized debate across the Queen City.
Filling every seat and extending into the balconies of Contois, supporters and opponents remained mostly silent (albeit with some occasional outbursts) as one speaker after another took their seat before the microphone to address the Council. Waving flags throughout the evening, supporters of the F-35 sat together at floor level with the City Council while its opponents were mostly seated in the upper deck in what may be the ultimate visual representation of the deep divide that has grown around the issue over the past year.
Instituting a politely oppressive process of excluding many members of communities to be affected by the F-35, President Joan Shannon’s (D-Ward 5) Council imposed new rules for who may and may not be permitted to speak at the final public forum before a vote; a process suspected of placing undue emphasis on pro-F-35 speakers due to it’s exclusion of citizens who may have spoken on previous occasions.
Underlying many of the talking points of each side was a muted conversation about Burlington’s apparent refusal to acknowledge classism as it occurs in the Queen City and surrounding areas. On numerous occasions throughout the night, business and property owners (mostly white men) delivered commentary roughly to affect of “I own property in Winooski, South Burlington, Williston, and Burlington… I’ve never found the noise of the F-16s [currently based at BTV] to be a nuisance.” This was observed in stark contrast to the comments delivered by many working-class residents actually living in the affected communities, many of whom expressed grave concern about the Environmental Impact Study conducted and published by the Air Force itself that designated a wide swath of homes along the flight path as “unsuitable for residential use.”
This decision on the part of the City Council (with the commendable exceptions of Councilors Siegel [P-Ward 3], Tracy [P-Ward 2], and Brennan [P-Ward 3]) appears to be part and parcel of a new era of unbridled civic exploitation and development on the part the Weinberger administration. This includes holding City Councilors at economic gunpoint; violating of the Constitution in the Church Street Marketplace; the relaxation of several zoning regulations in order grease the wheels of high-priced condo construction and development; and an unblinking support of an alarmingly militarized police force that at times appears incapable of keeping itself on the community leash.
As evidenced by a telling photograph by F-35 opponent Ben Eastwood of Councilor Norm Blais (D-Ward 6) tuning out the impassioned discussion in favor of watching the World Series on his laptop, the City Council appears wholly uninterested in addressing the fundamental concerns of working-class citizens of Burlington and surrounding communities, including the deep concerns of a Holocaust survivor who spoke of the dire need for peace in the world. Instead, they’ve chosen to march in lock-step with Mayor Weinberger’s plan of carving out more and more of the Queen City for real estate development and overwhelming personal profit, no matter the expense to the people or the affect of those on the receiving end of the most expensive aerial weapons system in human history.
Retired Air Force Colonel Roseanne Greco, an ardent opponent of the F-35, salutes the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance
White-shirted supporters of the F-35 recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the Burlington City Council meeting on Monday night
Citizens and business owners supporting the F-35 submit their comments during the public comment period
An opponent of the F-35 observes the Burlington City Council's rejection of resolutions to stop the F-35 from roosting in Burlington