BURLINGTON, Vt. – With the first of the Vermont National Guard’s new F-35 fighter jets set to arrive next week, protests continue outside Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Burlingon office.
Four protestors were arrested Wednesday after refusing orders to leave. On Thursday, several city councilors from Burlington and South Burlington joined the protests.
They were prohibited from entering Leahy’s office, but they had a long exchange in the hallway with his state director John Tracy.
Burlington City Councilor Max Tracy said Leahy has yet to take questions on the issue from F-35 opponents, who say they don’t feel heard.
“Elected officials have been asking to meet with the senator for years,” he said. “I felt it was a little disrespectful as elected officials to not even be able to enter the office of the senator who represents our state.”
John Tracy said the protestors’ concerns have been shared with Leahy throughout the entire process. And he said the protestors’ demands misleading, and “not something he (Sen. Leahy) can or should sign.”
It was the third day protests were outside Leahy’s office over what the group is calling an “effort to influence the basing process of the F-35.”
Protestors want Leahy to demand a delay to the F-35 basing until their conditions, including a public hearing on noise impacts and other potential risks.
South Burlington Councilor Meghan Emery asked John Tracy why Leahy suported bringing the jets to Burlington International Airport.
“Because he believes that the Vermont National Guard is the unit, and that’s part of the reason they were chosen,” Tracy replied. “He believes they’re the right unit for the job and he feels it’s the best thing for the State of Vermont.”
Max Tracy wanted to know why Leahy was so confident the jets will be able to “safely operate.”
“The testing they’ve done, the modifications they’ve made, this model has been in use for a number of years,” he responded. “Vermont Air Guard pilots has a core group that have been flying for a couple of years now so they’re comfortable with the aircraft.”
South Burlington City Councilor Helen Riehle and Burlington City Councilor Jack Hanson also attended Thursday’s protest.