Republican U.S. Senate candidate John MacGovern, second from left, talks to reporters as an F-16 takes off at Burlington International Airport on Thursday in South Burlington.
SOUTH BURLINGTON — Republican U.S. Senate candidate John MacGovern doesn’t think the U.S. Air Force should base F-35 fighter planes at the Vermont Air National Guard base at the Burlington International Airport because the planes are out of character with the area.
MacGovern said Thursday he was strong on defense and supported the role of the National Guard in Vermont and the nation, but the upcoming decision that could result in the planes being based in Vermont would be bad for the community and the military because the planes are so noisy they could disrupt lives and drive down property values.
“I believe one needs to look at this matter with the cold, sober facts, not emotion, not partisanship, what is in the best interests of this community here, the larger community of Burlington and the region of Vermont, but also this country,” he said during a news conference Thursday outside the airport. “It’s not in the public interest to have the F-35 at the Burlington International Airport.”
He said it could be bad for the military because of the restrictions placed on pilots to minimize the noise of the planes.
MacGovern said he knew that many “of my Republican friends” would be upset with him for opposing the possible basing of the planes in Vermont. And he said it was “topsy-turvy” for the Republican to oppose the basing of the planes over his November election opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a left-leaning independent, but he felt it was the right position.
He said he recognized the importance of the National Guard jobs, but it would be at least 10 years before the F-16s are retired, giving the Guard time to find another mission or convert the base to another use.
MacGovern, of Windsor, used to live in Massachusetts near the now-closed Fort Devens Army base. After it was closed, he watched the property being redeveloped.
“If it were to close, though it would be disruptive, it would not be the end of the world,” MacGovern said of the Burlington base. “There could be other uses for this facility, factories, warehouses, whatever. To be close to an airport, there are all sorts of advantages.”
Sanders said he was proud of the Vermont Air National Guard.
“The F-35, whether one may like it or not, is the plane of choice not only for the U.S. Air Force, but for the Navy, Marines and much of NATO,” Sanders said in a statement issued by his Washington office. “If the F-35 ends up not being located here, it will end up at a National Guard base in Florida or South Carolina. I would rather it be here.”
The other two members of Vermont’s congressional delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin also back bringing the planes to Vermont.
Opponents say the planes, which are noisier than the F-16s they will replace, could drive down property values and erode the quality of life of people who live along the flight path.
Sanders said the neighbors had legitimate concerns about the noise and that he and other members of the delegation would do all they could to minimize the problem, should the Air Force decide to base the planes in Vermont.
MacGovern, 61, a graduate of Dartmouth College, served in the Massachusetts Legislature during the 1980s. He moved to Vermont in 1999.
He currently runs the Hanover Institute, which he describes as an independent group of Dartmouth alumni formed to protect their voice in an expanded governing board.
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