By Kevin J. Kelley
Activists opposed to basing F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport have found a potentially effective spokesperson for their cause. She’s Carmine Sargent, a 69-year-old grandmother who has been living within earshot of the airport since 1972.
Sargent — or “Gramma,” as she’s billed by the F-35’s adversaries — made her debut at a press conference and protest staged last month in front of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Main Street office in Burlington. After speaking at the event, Sargent hand-delivered a box of fudge to Leahy’s fourth-floor suite. She told staffers the gift symbolized the “fudged” process, as a recent Boston Globe article described it, that led the Air Force to pick BTV as one of two preferred basing sites for up to two dozen F-35s. The Globe alleged the Air Force chose Burlington to please Leahy, one of the Senate’s most powerful members.[…]
“I felt like I was being an observer of my own life,” she muses. “I was complaining about [the F-35], but I wasn’t doing anything about it.”
She also came to understand that protesting the plane wasn’t about being “anti-military or anti-development, but pro-community.”
It was the Federal Aviation Administration’s house demolition program that helped tip her into activism, Sargent relates. The feds have purchased and destroyed more than 50 homes in the high-noise zone over the past few years and another 150 moderately priced homes are eligible for the buyout and teardown.
“We would all of a sudden see a house being razed, and nobody would talk to us about what was happening,” Sargent recalls. She coined the term “Little Detroit” for South Burlington’s dead zone of bulldozed and vacated homes.
Sargent’s own ranch house lies just outside the high-noise zone’s borders. But if the F-35 does bed down about a quarter of a mile away, her home — and those of most of her neighbors — would be exposed to decibel levels that federal officials deem harmful to human health.