WINOOSKI – Applause could be heard throughout the Winooski City Council meeting room Monday after the council unanimously approved the city’s joining as a full party to a lawsuit regarding the U.S. Air Force’s environmental impact statement of F-35 fighter jets.
The decision followed a third heated discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of entering the lawsuit against Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.
As a full party, the city would retain its own lawyer in the lawsuit, forgoing representation by the current plantiffs’ lawyer, James Dumont. The council also approved the expenditure of $7,500 beginning after the meeting. This amount would be capped, and if the city planned on spending more, it would bring that issue back before the public and City Council for discussion.
To date, Mayor Seth Leonard said the city has spent about $4,000 during the F-35 lawsuit research and discussion phase.
“From my perspective, this is the best outcome,” Dumont said outside the meeting. “I’m so happy the city is involved.”
Winooski residents had voted on Town Meeting Day to approve the advisory question that authorized the City Council to enter the lawsuit and spend $7,500 in the process. The council spent three weeks discussing the issue before voting during the third meeting.
Before the vote was taken, former Winooski mayor Michael O’Brien urged the City Council to reconsider.
“I’m concerned about the cost and how deep it’s going to dig into our pockets,” O’Brien said. “The other thing is … we’ve worked hard with the guard to establish relationships and to discuss with them issues about the F-35 concerns that we have. I think we’ve developed a good relationship. The Air Guard will work with us.”
Plaintiffs who filed the case in U.S. District Court say the Air Force failed to provide enough information in the report released in April 2014. At issue is whether the Air Force underestimated the level of noise and its potential impact on health, property values and safety for those in the flight locations.
City Councilors had considered filing a brief in the case to express the city’s support. Councilor Nicole Mace said Monday she felt a brief did not carry as much of a guarantee of success.
The city has passed two resolutions on the issue, first in May 2012 and again in July 2013. City Manager Katherine “Deac” Decarreau said the Vermont Air National Guard has been “exceptional” in providing the city information about the F-35 fighter jet, and the Burlington International Airport is working to complete a noise study to estimate the F-35 impact on the city.
The city joins the Stop the F-35 Coalition and six Chittenden County residents as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Four of the individual plaintiffs are residents of Winooski.
Lawyer Dumont said the deadline for filing a motion in federal court for the city’s entrance into the lawsuit is April 29. Dumont said he expects the city’s lawyer to be contacting him within the next nine days.
Eileen Andreoli, a Winooski resident and party to the lawsuit, said she believes the city made the right decision to join. Andreoli beamed from ear to ear as she and other members of the lawsuit were congratulated by residents as they left the meeting.
“I think it will carry weight when a whole municipality says that they agree this is important for us,” Andreoli said. “It’s been said that Winooski is the conscience of Chittenden County for its efforts to find this truth. We’re a courageous little city.”
Editor’s note – The story has been modified to reflect the following clarification: Winooski City Manager Katherine “Deac” Decarreau said the Vermont Air National Guard has been “exceptional” in providing the city information about the F-35 fighter jet, and the Burlington International Airport is working to complete a noise study to estimate the F-35 impact on the city. Her statements were misrepresented in an earlier version of the story.
Contact Elizabeth Murray at 651-4835 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LizMurraySMC.