Demonstrator Chris Simpson blocks his ears during a noise demonstration on June 25 in Montpelier, Vt. Opponents of a plan that could bring F-35 fighter planes to Vermont demonstrated what they say is just how loud the planes are. They played recordings of the planes taking off, amplified to 115 decibels. (Toby Talbot/AP)
MONTPELIER, VT. — Part of Vermont’s capital shook with the roar of fighter planes Tuesday, but it wasn’t being buzzed by low-flying aircraft.
Rather, the sound of the F-35 planes came from speakers in a trailer that were being used by opponents of a proposal to base a number of the planes at the Burlington International Airport with the Vermont AirNational Guard.
The racket was meant to mimic the sound that some residents of Winooski would hear if the planes are based at the South Burlington airport. Winooski is off the north end of the runway.
One of the opponents carried a sound meter that hit about 115 decibels, making it impossible to hear or speak when standing even about 100 feet in front of the speakers.
“I want to first apologize to the people who work at the Statehouse and in this immediate area that we are here today. We never wanted to have to do a demonstration like this. We are completely against it,” said organizer Christopher Hurd, a member of the Stop the F-35 Coalition, one of the groups trying to keep the F-35s from being based in Vermont.
A similar demonstration was held in downtown Burlington earlier Tuesday.
Hurd said the speaker system they used could only produce the 115 decibel level for those standing close to the speakers. The planes themselves would produce the 115 decibel level at 1,000 feet, he said.
The Vermont National Guard acknowledges the F-35s are noisier than the F-16s they would replace, but they have said the planes would be flying only minutes a day several days a week and the pilots could fly them in such a way to minimize noise.
Guard spokesman Capt. Christopher Gookin said “demonstrating a decibel level in this manner is not (a) comparison the community would experience with normal flight operations.”
The speakers were set up outside the Pavilion Office building, where the office of Gov. Peter Shumlin is located. Shumlin, who was out of the state Tuesday, and Vermont’s congressional delegation support the F-35 plan.
Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding listened to the demonstration but wasn’t convinced it was an apt comparison.
“What I heard was a noise I would expect to hear at the end of a runway, at a jetport. I didn’t hear anything I didn’t expect,” Spaulding said.
He also spoke with Hurd and some of the other F-35 opponents.
“Part of the role of government is to protect the people,” Hurd said told Spaulding, and therefore the government should prove the planes put nobody in harm’s way, including children.
“Why doesn’t the governor come out and vet this entire process?” Hurd said.
Spaulding responded that the debate is important, but supporters and opponents had strong differences of opinion, sometimes on the basic facts.
“The facts are we’re talking about a few minutes a day, a few times a week,” Spaulding said. “If those planes are going to fly, they are an important part of our economy and I think Vermonters recognize that.”
Cordelia McKusick, of Shelburne Falls, Mass., was walking by the Statehouse with a friend when they were drawn to the noise. She called it “intensive and disturbing.”
“It felt like there were airplanes coming,” McKusick said. “It’s just an incredible sound.”
While the sound rattled the area round the Pavilion and the Statehouse, Montpelier police said they hadn’t received any complaints about the noise.