By Jason Starr
Burlington International Airport will deploy $6.3 million in Federal Aviation Administration funds to begin mitigation of noise impacts of the Vermont National Guard’s F-35 fighter jet program.
The majority of the money will be used to soundproof Chamberlin Elementary School in South Burlington, which is located less than a half-mile from the airport. Some of the funds will be used to set up three sound monitoring devices to monitor decibel levels from the jets, which have increased noise impacts in Williston compared to the previous F-16 jets. The guard began replacing F-16s with F-35s earlier this year. By the end of the year, it will have 20 jets operating out of the airport.
Last month, several Williston residents called into a meeting with the selectboard and Burlington airport officials to share concerns that they have measured F-35 noise levels over 100 decibels as far away as Oak Hill Road and Lake Iroquois. The airport’s official noise impact map shows noise levels of up to 65 decibels extending only into the western edge of Williston closest to the airport.
According to Vermont National Guard Public Affairs Officer Mikel Arcovitch, the flight path of the F-35s is the same as that of the F-16s. In their current schedule, F-35s have morning and afternoon takeoffs Tuesday through Friday with weekend flying on the first weekend of each month.
The three noise monitors will be placed near the airport, Aviation Director Gene Richards said, with one at the southern end of the runway close to the Williston town line. They will help verify noise impacts and underpin claims homeowners will be able to make through the FAA’s Noise Compatibility Program for noise mitigation assistance. Deputy Aviation Director Nic Longo said affected homeowners will be eligible for help with soundproofing or selling of homes.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch issued a joint statement after the federal funding was announced: “These initial grants to soundproof the Chamberlin School and establish noise monitoring units are an encouraging first step as we continue to advocate for the communities surrounding the airport. We look forward to working with federal, state and local partners on future noise-proofing projects, including in communities not currently helped by this funding.”
Richards said he hopes to expand noise monitoring around Chittenden County.
“I already know it’s loud at the airport,” he said during last month’s selectboard meeting. “So I would prefer to move the (monitors) into the community, so when people have concerns there can be verification. That’s what the community is really asking for.”
Longo said the airport’s official noise exposure map will be reworked next year, when the full complement of 20 F-35s are in place. At that time, the air guard plans to do its own noise study.
Meanwhile, the guard announced the deployment this month of 70 airmen to Africa, Europe and locations within the U.S. The deployment will be done in six-month stints and will be complete by next summer, according to a press release. The deployment will not affect F-35 operations over Chittenden County.