Military training flights over Watertown, Adirondacks proposed

May 18, 2012

The Vermont Air National Guard is proposing to start taking training flights over the Adirondacks and Watertown with F-35 aircraft.

The big, loud planes would replace the smaller, quieter F-16s the National Guard is using now —but not until at least 2015.

The Guard has issued a draft environmental impact statement – and it has held public hearings  around the area. The planes would take off and land in Burlington, Vermont. A meeting there drew more than 500 people.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Caputo is with the 134th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard. He says about 70 or 80 people spoke at that meeting.

"I think it was about 60 folks that voiced positive feedback on the proposed action, and about 25– 20, 25 – that opposed or had concerns about the proposed action. And really, the major concern is the noise," Caputo said.

The Guard held another public hearing last night at Case Middle School in Watertown. But, only one member of the public showed up to comment on the plan.

Robert Blank is a science teacher at Watertown High School – but before that,  he was with the Air Force and Air National Guard for 25 years. He worked as an airspace manager at Fort Drum for 10 years and he helped to develop and oversee the airspace the Vermont Air National Guard uses for training.

"And we took into account all kinds of different environmental concerns – nesting areas, hiking and camping areas – and a lot of different factors in designing the airspace, and I thought, you know, this would be a good opportunity to come and state that for the record, because I believe the airspace is fully capable of handling this new mission," said Blank.

Under the new proposal, there could be fewer training flights, and they'd be at higher altitudes. But people on the ground would be more likely to hear them.

Bob Van Tassel is a consultant to the company preparing the Environmental Impact Statement – he said noise would increase dramatically with the new planes.

"You know, you might have the perception of it being 50 percent – or more than that – noisier," said Van Tassel.

The Guard is accepting public comments on the plan until June 1. If it decides to fly the new F-35s from Burlington, they would arrive sometime between 2015 and 2020. That's when training flights would start.