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The U.S. Air Force is delaying the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement for the F-35A until this fall.
The environmental report, typically styled as the EIS, will contain the Air Force’s final assessment of the best bases for the military’s new fighter/bomber.
The draft of the EIS was released in the spring of 2012 and has led to a fierce local controversy regarding the appropriateness of basing the new plane at the Vermont Air National Guard facility at Burlington International Airport in South Burlington.
The final report originally was scheduled for release in fall 2012. Burlington was identified as the “preferred location” among Air Guard bases in the draft EIS.
Proponents of the basing in Burlington, including the state’s congressional delegation, Gov. Peter Shumlin and business groups, have argued that the plane will ensure that the mission of the Vermont Air National Guard at the airport will remain robust, as would the money generated by the base.
Opponents have cited the draft Environmental Impact Statement’s findings that indicate the F-35A would be three to four times noisier than the F-16s currently flown by the Air Guard and would greatly expand the area and the number of people, particularly in South Burlington and Winooski, whose homes would be inside the noise area around the airport described by the Federal Aviation Administration as unsuitable for residences.
The South Burlington City Council has formally opposed basing the plane at the airport.
The Air Force said the report’s release has been pushed back to allow public comment on changes resulting from adding 2010 census data. It did not explain in its Thursday afternoon statement announcing the delay why data from the 2000 census were used to prepare the draft report.
The public comment period likely will begin this summer, the Air Force said. The statement added that the delay in reaching the “record of decision” represented by the completed report “will not delay basing of operational F-35s at the first operational location.”
Vermont Adjutant General Steven Cray said in a statement that the delay gives local residents a chance to comment in a process he called “transparent, deliberate and repeatable.”