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The Latest Outrageous Waste of Money for the Pentagon's Playthings

'Noise zones' are being used to drive a money-soaked scheme for rich commercial developers, while putting thousands of families in affordable homes at risk.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Keith Tarrier

 

Is the Vermont Air National Guard being used for corrupt purposes having nothing to do with its military mission? The answer is yes. Big time. And for big money. In the article, “Those who 'Fudged' Should not be Allowed to Judge” we described how military brass fudged their own scoring process to get Senator Leahy’s home state of Vermont on the list as the “preferred alternative” for basing the F-35. We know who loses: thousands of Vermonters whose homes are in noise and crash zones. This article will follow the money to see who benefits from the corrupt practices of the military brass who fudged.

The developers who stand to gain the big money did not have to invest their own dollars to position themselves. They got the taxpayers to do that for them. The City of Burlington applied for and received a federal grant of $40 million to buy 200 families out of their affordable homes near the airport entrance, and the City now holds title to most of those homes. 55 have so far been demolished. Another hundred homes stand vacant awaiting demolition. Other homes are awaiting purchase for demolition.

The federal government put up the money to buy those 200 homes as "mitigation" for noise being made by the F-16 jet fighter currently flown by the Vermont Air National Guard at the local Burlington International Airport. The 200 homes are in a zone that is being blasted by a noise level from the F-16 jets that the federal government considers so loud that their neighborhood is “unsuitable for residential use.” A  report about Burlington International Airport prepared for the Federal Aviation Administration (the “FAA report”) says that “land acquisition and relocation is the only alternative that would eliminate the residential incompatibility” with that noise level (page 29).

Certain Vermont officials, including Senator Leahy and Governor Shumlin, continue to repeatedly suggest that the F-35, which the  Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) says is more than four times louder than the F-16, would be fine for thousands more Vermont families who live in affordable neighborhoods of Winooski, Burlington, Williston, and South Burlington Vermont. The Air Force draft EIS says the F-35 would put 3410 homes within that same noise contour that the federal government considers “unsuitable for residential use.”

But here is how the developers stand to make their millions: according to a chart in the FAA report (page 6), different land uses have different federally mandated noise limits. Noise levels that make a home “unsuitable for residential use” are perfectly fine for commercial and industrial use. This may be because residential use generally involves children going out to play, open windows during spring, summer, and fall, family conversation, and sleeping. Hotels and other commercial buildings may have permanently closed windows and incorporate other measures in design and construction to achieve substantial sound reduction. This difference in FAA mandated noise limits is what the big money people will exploit.

The FAA report indicates that the land left after the homes are demolished within the high noise contours is not scheduled to be left as green space. Taking into account the fact that land unsuitable for residential use can still be used for commercial and industrial activity, the FAA report calls for adoption of a “Reuse Plan.” In fact, the FAA report says, “preparation of a property reuse plan is an FAA grant requirement.” Thus, the affordable residential properties the City of Burlington acquired with $40 million of federal funds in South Burlington are officially being demolished for the purpose of making the land available for the non-residential commercial reuses.