F-35 noise monitoring program to launch

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Three noise monitors will be placed at Burlington International Airport later this year to verify decibel levels associated with the Vermont Air National Guard’s F-35 fighter jet program.

Airport Director of Aviation Gene Richards told Williston Selectboard members on Tuesday night that he had received tentative approval from the Federal Aviation Administration earlier in the day to initiate the noise monitoring program. One of the monitors will be placed at the southern end of the runway close to the Williston town line, Richards said.

Another will be placed at the north end of the airport, and another near South Burlington’s Chamberlin Elementary School. 

The monitors will be used to verify a noise impact map airport officials published last year in anticipation of the arrival of the F-35s, which began flying out of Burlington last fall. The map, which is based on modeling rather than actual noise data, outlines land around the airport where noise from the F-35s averages greater than 65 decibels. It shows an oval-shaped area around the airport with a 65 decibel-level zone spreading into the western edge of Williston, including portions of Industrial Avenue and North Brownell Road.

The three noise monitors will be set up to verify the projections used to create the map and underpin claims homeowners will be able to make through the FAA’s Noise Compatibility Program for noise mitigation assistance. According to Deputy Aviation Director Nic Longo, affected homeowners will be eligible for help with selling a home — in some cases the airport would buy a home, install noise insulation, and resell it — or installing noise insulation.

The noise monitors won’t help Williston residents who live in other parts of town verify what they are hearing from the F-35s, which have replaced the F-16 fighter jets the Air Guard had been flying. The F-35s were billed as a louder aircraft, and several Williston residents from as far away from the airport as Lake Iroquois and East Hill Road have noticed the difference.

“I’m distressed by the noise, my animals are distressed, and the wildlife must be petrified,” said Terry Marron, who lives near Lake Iroquois. 

Marron said she has used a phone app to measure decibel levels when F-35s are overhead, and has seen readings as high as 108 decibels.

“That’s in the dangerous range,” she said. 

East Hill Road resident Art Cernosia said his phone app has also registered decibels as high as 108. 

“I cannot carry on conversations inside my house when the planes go over,” he said. 

Lake Iroquios-area resident Patrick Kelly said his phone app has registered a high of 90 decibels and an average of 75. 

“We need to have monitoring here to know what the precise readings are and how it’s affecting the community,” Marron said. 

Richards hopes the noise monitoring program can be expanded into Williston and Winooski, perhaps with funding from the Department of Defense.

“This isn’t enough,” Richards said. “We will have to continue to expand the program … I already know it’s loud at the airport. 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 noise exposure map will be reworked next year, when the full complement of 20 F-35s are in place. The planes have been arriving sporadically since the fall, and are not yet all in Burlington. 

Brig. Gen. Hank Harder, the assistant adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, joined Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting via videoconference and said that the Air Guard will do its own noise study in 2021 in an attempt to verify the noise assumptions that were incorporated into the Environmental Impact Statement the Air Force used in choosing Burlington as an F-35 base.