- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 3, 2013

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday announced it will base its new F-35 fighter plane at Burlington International Airport despite complaints that the planes would be too noisy and pose a risk to the community.

The ruling follows a lengthy and heated debate in Vermont over the plane, which is designed to replace the aging F-16. Up to 18 of the warplanes will be based at the airport.

Opponents worry about noise, possible accidents and whether Burlington, which owns the airport, could be liable in the event of a crash.

The National Guard said the planes could be flown in a way that would minimize noise. Supporters, including the state’s congressional delegation and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, argued the planes would help ensure about 1,100 well-paying National Guard jobs.

In a joint statement, the elected officials praised the decision and said it would preserve the Vermont Air National Guard’s mission while protecting jobs and supporting the local economy.

Opponents already have said they had retained a lawyer and would file a lawsuit if the Air Force chose the airport.

“The Air Force decision to select Burlington will not stop the campaign to stop the F-35,” opponent Richard Joseph said. “It will make building the campaign against the basing all the more important.”

The Air Force liked the Burlington site because of its location in the Northeast and its uncongested airspace for training flights. Officials also noted the Vermont Air National Guard had an advantage over sites in South Carolina and Florida because transition costs at Burlington would be lower.

The main complaint from opponents was the noise the new airplanes would make and the location of the airport, situated near homes. Some feared the health effects and possible loss of property values.

Opponents also noted concerns about possible crashes and liability. City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said there was no liability in case of an accident, but the city did buy a $5 million policy to protect against lawsuits stemming from airport-related issues.

In South Burlington, the airport’s host city, councilors voted in July in favor of the F-35, reversing an earlier decision. The Winooski City Council voted in July to oppose the plan.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger; Mr. Shumlin; Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent; and Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, had said the plane is important to the state’s economy.