Federal Judge Rules Against Anti-F-35 Coalition

Aug 12, 2016

A federal judge has dealt a blow to opponents of the Air Force's plan to base F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport.

On Wednesday, Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford ruled the U.S. Air Force properly handled an environmental impact study regarding the decision to base the fighter jets at the airport starting in 2019.

A handful of residents and the Stop the F-35 Coalition had sued Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James back in 2014, arguing the military didn't take a hard enough look the possible consequences of basing the fighters in South Burlington. The City of Winooski later joined the suit, and South Burlington also filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting part of the case.

The larger, more powerful F-35s are louder than the current fleet of F-16s used by the Vermont Air National Guard, which is based at the airport. The plaintiffs in the case argued the Air Force didn't do its due diligence when it issued the environmental impact statement on the move, specifically regarding noise pollution, costs, the environmental effects of a plane crash and other legal and procedural issues.

But Crawford rejected those arguments, writing in Wednesday's ruling that the Air Force did, indeed, take a “‘hard look’ at the environmental consequences of the basing decision."

"[T]he court is satisfied that the decision to locate the F-35 at [the Vermont Air National Guard] meets the requirements that the agency action not be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion [sic], or otherwise not in accordance with law," Crawford wrote.

It's unclear what happens next.

Vermont Air National Guard Major General Steven Cray said in a prepared statement: "We are very happy to put the lawsuit behind us and to focus on the future of the Vermont Air Guard. As community partners it's important that we continue to work side by side with our airport neighbors."

But the plaintiffs still could appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City.

Attorney Jim Dumont, who is representing the six residents in the case and the anti-F-35 coalition, told VPR Thursday that he is reviewing the decision and will talk with his clients and other lawyers in the case about whether to appeal.

Winooski Mayor Seth Leonard said the city is reviewing the judge's ruling, and could make a decision at Monday's City Council meeting.