By: Dylan Brogan for Isthmus, Nov. 7, 2019
On this October afternoon, Carmine Sargent’s living room is as bright as the autumn leaves falling in South Burlington, Vermont. Sargent introduces “the folks from Madison” to nine of her neighbors. Wisconsin Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Madison Ald. Rebecca Kemble are here on a fact-finding mission with community activists Brandi Grayson, Amelia Royko Maurer and videographer Nicole Desautels.
“We have all been connected to the effort to oppose F-35 [jets] in some way,” says Sargent, who has lived in her home for more than 40 years. “This all started with us neighbors feeling imposed upon without really being told about anything.”
The Vermonters hope sharing their experiences with the Wisconsin delegation will prevent something similar transpiring in Madison. They warn against trusting the Air Force because they say they were betrayed by the U.S. military long before F-35s landed here.
Sargent lives in the Chamberlin neighborhood, a close-knit community of charming, modest homes next to the Burlington International Airport. The airfield, owned by the city of Burlington, is a commercial airport that shares its runway with the Vermont Air National Guard. Chamberlin has long been attractive to young families seeking affordable, starter homes.
Anna Johnston has lived here for nearly six decades, the airport runway a half-mile from her home. For most of that time, Johnston didn’t think much about the airport because she was busy raising two kids. Also the commercial air traffic wasn’t terrible and military jet takeoffs were infrequent.
“There was always airplane noise, but it was a great neighborhood,” says Johnston, noting it’s a place where neighbors take care of neighbors. “There were 60 kids on our block and they’d all play in the woods. The school was close enough for the kids to walk.”
But things have changed in Chamberlin. Over the past decade, residents have seen parts of the neighborhood dismantled house by house. Around 200 homes have been razed as part of a voluntary federal program to relocate people affected by airport noise. This has left large swaths of vacant land on the blocks closest to the airport. In 2008, residents started noticing an increase in military jet noise. The National Guard — without public notice — had fitted its fleet of 18 F-16 fighter jets with larger fuel tanks, which made them heavier. Because of the extra weight, the F-16 had to use loud afterburners, which provides more thrust, during 90 percent of takeoffs.