PLATTSBURGH — As the South Burlington community continues to haggle over whether it wants F-35 fighter jets to be stationed there, some North Country officials are still ready to play host.
But the reality of the jets ever coming to Plattsburgh International Airport, which is situated on the flight line of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, does not seem likely.
“We would have to rebuild the whole west side of the flight line, and I just don’t see that happening,” said Clinton County Legislator Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), who chairs the county’s Airport Committee.
“I would love to entertain them, but we can’t spend $20 million.”
The idea of Plattsburgh hosting the controversial aircraft came up last year as the debate across the lake broiled on. Many residents in South Burlington do not want the F-35s to be located at Burlington International Airport, mainly because of noise issues.
The Air Force is analyzing five locations for the F-35s, including South Burlington, which along with Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah, are preferred sites.
The other sites are Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, Shaw AFB in Sumter, S.C., and Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida.
South Burlington residents are concerned about a revised environmental impact study that recently showed the noise could be more of a concern than initially reported. There were also concerns about potential accident zones near the flight line.
The Air Force said all five sites are still under review, and a decision will not be made until the environmental analysis is complete.
“The Air Force has no plans to base F-35s at Plattsburgh,” a statement from Air Force Media Operations Officer Ann Stefanek said.
‘NOT MUCH ENTHUSIASM’
Legislator Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac) raised the issue at last week’s legislature meeting, wondering if the county’s interest had received any response.
Officials had sent letters to the Air Force and to Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) last year about possibly hosting the jets.
“Have we heard back from anybody on this?” Butler asked.
“We got acknowledgement that they received our letters, but not with a lot of enthusiasm,” responded Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru).
Congressman Owens was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman, Jon Boughtin, said the congressman had been in touch with the adjutant general of the Vermont Air National Guard and expressed his support for Plattsburgh hosting the jets.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak has been in favor of doing so since last year.
“I stated several months ago, if the option to pursue bringing F-35s to Plattsburgh is legitimate, my position would be to support this,” he said.
Adding the jets to the airport would be an economic boost, he said.
“We have a rich military history and to add 300 to 400 jobs to the area can only benefit the North Country in my opinion, but it has to be feasible for the federal government.”
Plattsburgh Air Force Base operated from 1955 to 1995. It was home to several different aircraft, including the FB-111 fighter-bomber and the KC-135 stratotanker.
The airport was opened on the flight line of the former base in 2007.
Heins said the five sites under consideration for the F-35s already have space and facilities to handle them while Plattsburgh does not.
“We had the Air Force presence in the past, and we would love to have it again, but I just can’t see them spending all that money to put them here when they have bases that can take them,” he said.
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