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December 11, 2013

This Week's Issue: F-35 Aftermath, Myers-Briggs for Farmers and Marijuana Testing


We're in the home stretch of 2013, people. As we at Seven Days plot our year-end coverage, enjoy this week's news and politics stories:

Pick this week's Seven Days up in print, online or on the iOS app.

Cover photo by Sarah Priestap

December 06, 2013

Vermont Democratic Party Spokesman to Challenge Progressive Burlington City Councilor

EmersonDemocratic operative Ryan Emerson said Friday he's leaving his job as spokesman for the Vermont Democratic Party and running for the Burlington City Council.

"I'm running because I really want to step up and do something different," Emerson (pictured at right) said. "I feel like I can bring a lot to the Old North End. It's been my home for the past few years. I've worked behind the scenes in Vermont politics and I want to use that experience to help my community."

If nominated at a Burlington Democratic Party caucus next Wednesday, Emerson would face off against Progressive Councilor Max Tracy for a Ward 2 seat in the Old North End.

Asked why he thought Tracy should go, Emerson said, "There's nothing wrong with Max Tracy. He seems like a great guy. This is about me and what I can do for my community."

Emerson did say he disagreed with Tracy's vote to bar F-35 fighter jets from being based at the city-owned Burlington International Airport. He said the council "wasted a lot of time" debating the issue and that banning the planes could have jeopardized federal funding.

"I think not allowing F-35s to be based here and giving Burlington that liability and making it possible that we wouldn't have an airport, I think that would be an irresponsible decision," he said.

Continue reading "Vermont Democratic Party Spokesman to Challenge Progressive Burlington City Councilor" »

December 04, 2013

'It's Not Over,' F-35 Foes Insist as They Carry Fight to the Courts


The mood among F-35 opponents gathered in an Old North End conference room Tuesday evening contrasted starkly with the triumphalist atmosphere inside a Vermont Air Guard hangar earlier in the day.

About a dozen members of the Stop the F-35 Coalition sat glumly around a table a few hours after the state's political leaders and hundreds of uniformed Air Guard members cheered the decision to base 18 of the stealth fighter-bombers in Vermont beginning in 2020.

The activists who have fought the local basing option for more than four years were reluctant to discuss their next steps with a reporter. However, they agreed to offer responses to Tuesday's announcement prior to conducting a private strategy discussion.

Continue reading "'It's Not Over,' F-35 Foes Insist as They Carry Fight to the Courts" »

December 03, 2013

Air Force F-35s Coming to Vermont [UPDATED]

DSC_0040Updated at 4:27 p.m.

Despite fierce opposition from many in the community, the F-35 fighter plane will be based at Burlington International Airport starting in 2020, authorities announced today.

The much-anticipated decision by the U.S. Air Force was announced during a raucous ceremony attended by Sen. Patrick Leahy, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Vermont Air National Guard Adjutant General Steven Cray inside a Air National Guard hangar.

“Today is a historic day for the Vermont National Guard. This is a milestone event for the Air Force in its next steps in securing the citizens of the United States,” Cray said.

Leahy and Shumlin both hailed what they called a major “grassroots” campaign in support of the planes.

“I’ve never seen such a grassroots effort in this state,” Leahy said.

But it wasn't a universal one. Today's announcement came in the wake of protracted opposition from residents who worry that the jets and their noise will disrupt neighborhoods and threaten public health.  Opponents of the Burlington basing said they aren’t giving up their fight.

Continue reading "Air Force F-35s Coming to Vermont [UPDATED]" »

October 30, 2013

This Week's Issue: Hunting Trouble, Prison Sex and an M.I.A. Delegation

Cover103013While you're putting together your Halloween getup tonight — bonus candy for anyone in a homemade F-35 costume — give this week's news and politics stories in Seven Days a read. Here's what you'll find.

Pick up this week's issue in print, online or on the app. Finally, go Sox.

October 29, 2013

In Burlington City Hall, Eyes on the Ball


Two conflicts played themselves out more than 1000 miles apart from each other last night. 

In Burlington City Hall, friends and foes of the F35 were making their last-ditch appeals to the city councilors, who by the end of the night rejected two anti-F35 resolutions with 10-4 and 11-3 votes.

In St. Louis, Mo., two teams were both seeking their third win in the World Series. Ultimately, the Red Sox prevailed with a 3-1 win over the Cardinals.

But Councilor Norman Blais (D-Ward 6), probably wasn't surprised by either outcome, because he managed to have his eyes on both the meeting and the game. 

In a photo taken at the meeting and posted publicly on Facebook by a man named Ben Eastwood, Blais' laptop screen shows a man swinging a bat. "I found it almost by accident when I was trying to zoom in on the map they were handing around the council and noticed what they were watching," Eastwood writes in an email to Seven Days.  

Could Blais have clicked on the browser window by accident, or was the councilor tuning out the F35 debate to watch the game? Neither, apparently.

"I didn’t do it accidentally, I wanted to find out what the score was," Blais says candidly.

Elaborating, the councilor explains, "I didn't even have to stop listening to the discussion. I clicked on [the window showing the game], looked at the score, and then continued listening to the meeting."

Photo courtesy of Ben Eastwood. 

Burlington City Council Shoots Down Two Anti-F-35 Resolutions

F-35-imageSeated before a raucous, city-hall crowd of 400 that didn’t always obey rules limiting the debate, city councilors last night voted down two resolutions opposing plans to base the F-35s at Burlington International Airport.

The first resolution, calling for the city to actively oppose locating F-35s at the Burlington-owned airport, was rejected 10-4. Councilors Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), Kevin Worden (D-Ward 1), Vince Brennan (P-Ward 3) and Rachel Siegel (P-Ward 3) voted for the resolution.

The council seemed swayed by an opinion issued in recent days by City Attorney Eileen Blackwood, who said Burlington does not have the legal right to ban the military from using any specific aircraft, and could be held financially liable for violating leases with the federal government if it tried to restrict the Air National Guard’s operations.

“There is no way I am willing to put the city at risk for that liability,” said Councilor William “Chip” Mason (D-Ward 5).

The second resolution, which would have banned planes that are louder than 65 decibels or have crash rates higher those of the F-16 — standards the F-35 is expected to exceed — was rejected 11-3. Brennan, Tracy and Siegel voted in support.

BTV Aviation Director Gene Richards told the council the anti-noise resolution could jeopardize future efforts to lure other commercial airlines to the airport.

Concern for the future of BTV swayed Councilor Karen Paul (I-Ward 6) to vote against both resolutions.

“It’s possible that without the F-35 coming to Vermont, at some point the Vermont Air National Guard’s mission will become uncertain,” Paul said. “They are an integral partner of our airport, and the airport’s impact on the local community cannot be overstated...I must keep in mind my fiduciary responsibility to the city.”

Councilor Tom Ayres (D-Ward 7) said he was “appalled” by the F-35 and believed the next-generation fighter should be sent to the “scrapheap.” But he said he did not believe the council had the authority to make decisions about whether or not to host them — and voted against both resolutions.

“Military basing decisions ... are simply not the purview of a city council. They are the purview of the U.S. government and elected officials in Washington,” he said. “I am adamantly opposed to any future deployment of the F-35 in any form. It’s not a weapon that should be based in Burlington or anywhere else in the United States. It’s time we took the battle back to the federal government and Congress.”

Continue reading "Burlington City Council Shoots Down Two Anti-F-35 Resolutions " »

October 22, 2013

Former Pentagon Jet Designer Warns of Risks of Basing F-35s at Burlington Airport

Pierre SpreyPierre Sprey, a defense analyst and co-designer of some of the military's toughest and most reliable warplanes, was in Burlington Tuesday warning of the potential dangers of basing the F-35 attack jets at Burlington International Airport.

Sprey charged that it would be both "dangerous" and "irresponsible" for the Air Force to base these new and sophisticated jets in a highly populated area such as South Burlington before they've logged enough flight time to work out all the bugs.

Sprey further warned that an F-35 crash in or around Chittenden County would produce dangerous levels of highly toxic gases and fibers, due to the burning of all its plastic components and stealth coating materials. He suggested that such a crash would be "a catastrophe of major proportions" that could "potentially blanket blocks and blocks" of residential neighborhoods in deadly gases for days, likening the effects to a "chemical warfare attack" in Syria.

Sprey also challenged claims by the Vermont Air National Guard that they'd be adequately prepared to deal with such an accident, noting that the video of a catastrophic crash and explosion of a B-2 bomber in 2008 "scared the pee out of every fire chief who looked at it." 

The 76-year-old Sprey speaks from experience. In 1967 he was brought to work at the Pentagon by then-defense secretary Robert McNamara. While there, he helped design the F-16 fighter jet, the A-10 "Warthog" ground attack jet, as well as tanks and anti-tank weapons. He left the Pentagon in 1971 but remained an active consultant on military systems through the late 1970s and has served as a defense analyst ever since.

On Tuesday, Sprey offered a room full of mostly F-35 opponents a blunt assessment of the new jet — and the politics of the generals pushing its development.

When compared to the F-16, Sprey described the F-35 as slower, less maneuverable and more difficult to fly due to its "frightening" cockpit visibility for pilots. Sprey also challenged the plane's ultimate usefulness to national defense, charging that its long-delayed development — now the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history — is driven more by political reasons than by military ones.

"The truth of the matter is, the engineering in the F-35 is appalling," Sprey said, adding that the attack jet's "main mission is to send money to Lockheed [Martin]." 

Sprey's final conclusion of the F-35s' usefulness: "This is no way to defend a country."

Continue reading "Former Pentagon Jet Designer Warns of Risks of Basing F-35s at Burlington Airport" »

October 08, 2013

F-35 Foes Making Final Push to Sway Burlington City Council

F-35-btvF-35 foes are escalating their protests against hosting the next-generation fighter plane at Burlington's Air Guard station in anticipation of a final decision after November 4. About 100 demonstrators jammed the hallway outside Burlington City Hall Auditorium on Monday evening to hear Progressive city councilors and leaders of the anti-F-35 coalition denounce the plan. A brass band on the steps of city hall serenaded protestors arriving for the rally (pictured, right).

"Burlington," activist Paul Fleckenstein told the cheering crowd, "can be the Waterloo of the F-35."

F-35 opponents are focusing their lobbying efforts on three Democratic city councilors: Kevin Worden (Ward 1), Bryan Aubin (Ward 4) and Tom Ayres (Ward 7). If the three targeted Dems vote with the council's four Progs and independent Sharon Bushor (Ward 1) — and if Mayor Miro Weinberger approves — Burlington could still go on record as rejecting the Air Force's plan to station up to two dozen F-35s at the city-owned airport. Such an expression of opposition by the Air Force's "preferred" host city might influence the final basing decision expected in less than a month.

Continue reading "F-35 Foes Making Final Push to Sway Burlington City Council" »

October 03, 2013

Burlington Council Grounds F-35 Vote Due to "Gap" in Insurance Coverage

F35The city council's contentious debate over basing the F-35s at Burlington International Airport has been temporarily grounded. The reason: lack of insurance in case the city gets sued.

On Thursday afternoon, Burlington City Council President Joan Shannon announced that she's postponed the debate and vote on a resolution that was scheduled for the council's October 7 meeting, next Monday. That resolution would have clarified the council's position on whether the next-generation fighter jets should be based at BTV — and possibly recommend that decision's delay. 

Also postponed was the scheduled public hearing, which was expected to draw a large crowd of both F-35 supporters and opponents.

"Our purpose is not in any way to avoid the vote," Shannon emphasized. "There still will be a vote."

Continue reading "Burlington Council Grounds F-35 Vote Due to "Gap" in Insurance Coverage" »

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