Wednesday, July 25, 2012

GBIC study deeply flawed

Real Estate Expert Finds Critical Flaw in F-35 Property Value Study

 "But the largest apparent flaw in the GBIC assessment pertains to its interpretation of home sale prices in the section of South Burlington closest to BTV. There, the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to finance the purchase of homes from private sellers at what amounts to market value for a South Burlington home. Over the past decade, the FAA has purchased about 90 houses in that designated excessive-noise zone. Subsequently, they were either demolished or slated for demolition.

Only nine homes in that area were sold to private buyers during the years included in the GBIC study. The FAA is allocating funds to BTV to purchase 14 additional homes inside the high-noise zone in the coming year. The airport will pay between $250,000 and $300,000 for those properties, says Bob McEwing, the airport’s director of planning and development The sale prices are based on appraisals of comparably sized homes that have sold recently in Chittenden County, with a focus on South Burlington houses that lie outside the high-decibel zone, McEwing says.

The neighborhood around the airport has been steadily emptied of residents. Vacant lots are now common in the zone, as are condemned houses awaiting demolition. Some of those properties have been vandalized. 

GBIC takes no account of the effect of a federal agency offering top dollar for homes that would otherwise be unlikely to find buyers — even at steeply discounted prices. Allen writes in an email: “Only sales that were ‘conventional’ market transactions, sold without the influence of the federal buyback program, can be considered appropriate sales for inclusion in the analyses.”

Greco adds: “These homes were not purchased by individuals for residential use despite the airport noise. They were purchased under a federal program for destruction because of airport noise. Using these home sales as evidence that aircraft noise does not affect home values is an incredulous argument.”

Allen notes in a disclaimer to his critical appraisal of the GBIC report that he owns a home in Winooski that would be affected by the increased noise expected from the F-35. “I am opposed to the F-35 basing because I feel it will have a devastating impact on our community,” Allen says.

The city of Burlington and the Air National Guard should be eager to have a well-documented and objective economic study of the impact of airport noise on property values, Allen suggests. “Ultimately,” he remarks, “they will be legally obligated to compensate property owners for damages.”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Greco Responds to GBIC Impacts on Home Values Report

The GBIC report must be discounted for three simple reasons:

First: purpose of sales. Almost half of the home sales listed in the report were houses that were purchased by the airport with FAA money (taxpayer dollars) for demolition. These homes were not purchased by individuals for residential use despite the airport noise. They were purchased under a federal program for destruction because of airport noise. Using these home sales as evidence that aircraft noise does not affect home values is an incredulous argument.

Second: timing of sales. Without a detailed accounting of when the homes were purchased; it is hard to deduce how recently they were purchased. This becomes important because the F-16 noise increases happened in the past four-five years. And while the report states that the “Guard flights currently account for approximately 5% of the total flight volume at the BTV airport” the FAA Part 150 Update says the ANG “is one of the dominant noise contributors to the DNL contour” (page 21), and the “2011 NEM forecast are dependent almost exclusively on the assumptions regarding the transition.” (page 22). This is referring to the transition to the GE engine for the F-16. The Guard expected the F-16 would become quieter with this transition. They were wrong. The F-16 became significantly louder.

Third: disclaimer accompanying sales. Most probably, none of the home sales carried a disclosure statement that the houses were not suitable for residential use. In fact, the FAA Part 150 Update says “The Airport has not encouraged the use of Real Estate Disclosures for properties within the 65dB DNL contour” (page 16). Homeowners only became aware of this requirement in the past few months. Tracking home sales in the noise areas once they start carrying this notice would be more revelatory.

This report is both invalid and deals with the past. It cannot predict what will happen in the future to home sales if the F-35A, which is a much louder aircraft, is based in South Burlington.

Rosanne Greco
South Burlington, VT

Thursday, July 19, 2012

City Councilor Greco on BG Cray's Comments

This is the commentary Rosanne Greco has sent to the newsmedia today regarding BG Cray's comments:

The General says they “fully expect the updated analysis and modified local flying operations to decrease the 65 dB DNL contour” area.  In February 2006, the Guard predicted that a change of engines would make the F-16 quieter (see FAA Part 150 report page 22).  The Guard was wrong.  Not only did the F-16s not become quieter, they became significantly louder.  Their expectations were wrong six years ago.  Now, they “expect” the noise to decrease in the future for the F-35A.  Neither the Guard, nor the AF, can predict with accuracy that this will occur.  And if they are wrong again, 6,675 people will be affected by this increased noise.

The General cites two studies in the DEIS regarding home values.  One indicated a negative impact on housing values; the other did not.  Upon which study should the local area rely?  As a strategic planner, surely the General knows one must plan for the most severe eventuality.  The AF would not have included the study that showed a negative impact on housing values, if they did not want us to consider this possibility.

The General says there is no factual data to support that military flight operations at the airport have negatively affected local property values.  200 homes in South Burlington have been, or are in the process of being, torn down largely because of the F-16 (see FAA report, pages 29 and 32).  Those homes have no value now because they no longer exist.  And, how does one put a monetary value on the quality of life of those still living in the airport neighborhoods?  Moreover, we have not yet seen what the new noise information based on the current operations of the F-16s will have on future property values.  In the past, homeowners in the affected area were not putting the disclaimer –that their home has been designated by the federal government as not being suitable for residential use -- on their sales documents.  Realtors in the area are only now analyzing the effect this statement will have on future sales.

The General mentions concerns about home loans, and says there is no supporting data to suggest that certain government loans will not be approved within the noise contours of the airport.  On the contrary, there IS supporting data that says specifically this will be the case.  It is mentioned a few times in the FAA Part 150 and DEIS reports (FAA Part 150 page 5; DEIS pages C-46-47).  The General says they have received information from HUD implying that this is not the case.  So, what is the truth?  The DEIS is the official AF findings on environmental impact on our area.  It appears the Guard and others are questioning the veracity of that document.  Is the DEIS wrong?  And, if the DEIS is wrong on this matter, is it wrong in other areas?  What are we to believe?

The General mentions accusations and misinformation; and then seems to imply that the Guard is now able to respond to questions in order to clear up and resolve this misinformation.  Here are some of the existing questions contributing to misinformation.

1.     Will the VTANG close if they are not selected in this initial basing decision?
2.     Will the VTANG’s mission be different if they are not selected in this initial basing decision?
3.     Will the VTANG require a lot fewer personnel if they are not selected in this initial basing decision?
4.     Is it possible that the VTANG might be selected in subsequent F-35A basing rounds?
5.     If is possible that the F-16 could fly beyond 2025, when it is expected to be withdrawn from service?
6.     Is it possible that the Guard could get another mission?

Simple and direct answers to the following questions will go a long way to correcting misinformation, and helping the public understand the ramifications of this issue.

-Rosanne Greco

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pentagon Air Force Official Admits Burlington got Top Score for F-35 Based on Flawed Data

The following was submitted to VTDigger by James Marc Leas

A Pentagon-based Air Force official made admissions that negate high level efforts to bring the F-35 to Burlington. In an interview published in the Burlington Free Press on July 13, 2012, Colonel Frank Freeman, a Pentagon-based director of plans and programs in the Air Force, admitted that Burlington got top points in the scoring based on information about housing in the crash and noise zones that differs from the facts.

The statements by Air Force Colonel Freeman are entirely consistent with the information provided by Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco (ret.) and a “‘highly placed source’ in the Air Force,” as reported in an article in the Free Press on June 26. The Free Press now reports that indeed scoring sheets were used “to rate more than 200 Air Force and Air Guard installations on their suitability as a basing station.” The latest article states that the scoring sheets “gave Burlington top points on the environmental section, indicating that no buildings were present in the [crash zone] area at the end of the runways or within the 65 decibel area close to the airport.”

The latest article confirms what Col. Greco was quoted saying in the earlier article, “‘mistakes were made, grave mistakes’ in the Air Force’s scoring that led to the designation of the Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport as a ‘preferred alternative’ for hosting new fighter jets, the F-35A.”

According to the Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), 2944 homes, 6675 people, 5 schools, 6 churches, and many businesses--including every inch of downtown Winooski--are in the crash zone area at the end of runways or within the F-35's “65 decibel DNL” noise contour.

According to the EIS, Day-Night Average Sound Level, or “DNL,” is an average of the noise over 24 hours computed over a year. The Air Force EIS says, “areas exposed to DNL above 65 dB are generally not considered suitable for residential use.” In view of no military aircraft flying at night and during most of the day, to produce such an unacceptable average noise level, a reader will appreciate that the maximum sound level of F-16 and F-35 aircraft flying over a home for just a few minutes each day must be much, much louder than 65 decibels.

The Air Force EIS says that the maximum sound level of the F16 flying at 1000 feet is 94 decibels and for the F-35 the maximum sound level is 115 decibels. Since the EIS states that each ten decibels is heard as a doubling of the loudness, the 21 decibel difference is more than two doublings of the loudness, and, therefore, the F-35 is more than four times louder than the F-16.

The Air Force EIS reports that “the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Hearing, Bioacoustics, and Biomechanics identified 75 dB as the minimum level at which hearing loss may occur.” The Air Force draft EIS also indicates that with its 115 decibel sound level, the F-35 at 1000 feet is 32 times louder than a vacuum cleaner at 10 feet and that the F-35 is in the noise range between an oxygen torch and a night club. According to the Air Force EIS, “at approximately 120 dB, sound can be intense enough to induce pain, while at 130 dB, immediate and permanent hearing damage can result.”

The Air Force EIS also reports that “for the purposes of determining eligibility for noise insulation funding, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines state that the design objective for a classroom environment is 45 dB Leq resulting from aircraft operations during normal school hours (FAA 1985)” (p. C-21) This section of the EIS also reports a study “based on students with normal hearing and no special needs.” The report found “that if an aircraft noise event’s indoor Lmax (maximum sound level) reached the speech level of 50 dB, 90 percent of the words would be understood by students seated throughout the classroom.” The authors “adopted an indoor Lmax  of 50 dB as the maximum single event level permissible in classrooms.”

The Air Force EIS revealed--for the first time--that even with just the current F-16 fighter, 1578 households and 3812 people were already within the average 65 decibel DNL zone.

The Air Force EIS also revealed for the first time that with the current F-16 fighter, two schools and two places of worship were already within the average 65 decibel DNL zone. It reports that with 24 F-35 bombers based in Burlington, five schools and six places of worship will be within that average 65 decibel DNL zone.

According to the latest Free Press article, Col. Frank Freeman, the Pentagon-based director of plans and programs in the Air Force, said the National Guard was the source of the information about the Burlington International Airport used in the score sheet: “Freeman said the Air Force’s Air Combat Command office ‘worked with installations to gather data’ for the score sheets. In Burlington’s case, he said, data came from the National Guard headquarters in Washington.”

The National Guard is the organization that has F-16s flying directly over those houses, schools, churches, and businesses and could not have missed seeing them. The National Guard is the organization Vermont needs to be able to trust to defend Vermont and our citizens, families, schools, children, homes, places of worship, businesses, communities, and towns. The National Guard is the organization Vermont expects will sacrifice for Vermonters and not vice versa.

The high score given to Burlington was followed by a visit to Burlington by a site survey team. But the site visit did not result in a correction: Colonel “Freeman described the score sheets as part of the initial ‘screening’ of the 200 bases. Burlington was chosen as a top candidate for the F-35A basing, he said, following the second phase of examination, when site survey teams visited and ‘had boots on the ground.’”

The Air Force and National Guard had other evidence, too. According to the Free Press article, Burlington was selected as a top candidate despite the fact that the Airport had “a map showing approximately 60 residences the Federal Aviation Administration has determined eligible for a federal buyout program due to the noise level.”

If a program was in place to buy houses, how could the Air Force and National Guard not know houses were already in the noise zone for the F-16? Especially since they knew that the F-35 was much louder.

If the Air Force had information from the National Guard, had boots on the ground, had aircraft flying directly over, and if the airport had a program to buy houses in the noise zone, how did the Air Force miss seeing the thousands of houses, schools, churches, and businesses it identified in its own EIS? How did they miss seeing all of downtown Winooski in the crash and noise zones and so much of South Burlington, Burlington, Williston, and Colchester?

In an article published in VTDigger on July 11, Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco (ret.) presented a series of flaws in the Air Force process, among them this gem:

However, the questions asked in the environmental category were not related to the F-35A. They were related to the existing F-16. The questions were not whether there would be homes and other structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-35A; but whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16. Of course, the answer to that question is ‘YES’ . . . The process the AF followed in this scoring is mind-boggling. For two categories (mission and capacity), they evaluated the base’s suitability for the future aircraft–the F-35A; but for one category (environment) they evaluated the base’s suitability for the existing aircraft—the F-16.

On the scoring sheet for Burlington, the actual answers given by the National Guard as to whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16 was “NO”--even though thousands of homes are there within the F-16's incompatible noise contour.

The Vermont Air National Guard and Vermont Senators, Congressman, and Governor all have a chance to fix the problem unless they continue to:

-fail to see thousands of homes in the crash and high noise zones
-fail to ask the Air Force to base all criteria on actual F-35 data
-allow faulty answers even regarding the F-16 to continue in the scoring
-fail to seek correction
-fail to recognize that no Air Force official ever said that without the F-35 the base would close or that no other mission for the Vermont Air National Guard is available
-fail to see the F-35 program as one to enrich senior executives at Lockheed-Martin at the expense of salaries, benefits, and jobs of members of the military
-agree to sacrifice homes, schools, churches, businesses, communities, and towns here in Vermont

In view of the fact that thousands of homes are in the 65 dB DNL zone and the crash zone, will the Vermont National Guard and our Vermont political leaders now act vigorously to protect those thousands of homes, families, schools, churches, businesses, and communities?

Especially when the best argument raised for basing the F-35 in Burlington is economic but even the economic argument is flawed by the facts that it (a) assumes the worst case, that the base will close, even though no Air Force official ever said so; (b) ignores the fact that property valued at over $700 million in just one of the towns, Winooski, is at risk; and (c) ignores the fact that spending $1.4 trillion on the F-35 takes money from soldier’s salaries, benefits, and jobs as well as taking money from education, health care, infrastructure, and many other needs.

The Free Press article also reported Col. Freeman saying, “as we go through each stage, new information is presented and scores from Stage One are no longer applicable.” However, if the process was flawed and Burlington should have been screened out at Stage One, why is it being retained in the process now? Why is the Air Force settling for basing its F-35's at a location that should have been screened out if not for a fundamentally flawed Stage One screening process?

Should the Air Force, the Vermont Air National Guard, the Senators, the Congressman, and the Governor now be asking the Air Force to start over and do its screening based on actual F-35 data and narrow the field to those bases that actually meet its sensible criteria of having no houses in the crash and noise zones?

Should our political leaders now be asked by all citizens of Vermont to stop cheerleading for the F-35 and tell the Air Force not to base the bomber in Burlington?


James Marc Leas is a patent lawyer in South Burlington

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

F-35A basing flaws include scores, process and arguments

By Rosanne Greco
originally published by VTDigger

After reading the scoring sheet and the accompanying background paper, and speaking with the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force (installations), I’ve come away with new reservations—this time about the process. I’ve maintained mistakes were made in scoring the Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS), which led to Burlington being selected as the preferred base for the F-35A multi-role fighter aircraft. But I had no reason to doubt the process. However, I now conclude that BOTH the scoring data AND the scoring process are flawed. And after reading some public comments, I think the two major arguments in favor of basing–economics and support of our military–are also flawed.

Scoring flaw
The scoring sheet shows the mistake. In simple terms, the questions asked are whether there are any homes in the accident and noise areas. The answer given is “no.” But there are thousands of homes there. Look at the questions, look at the answers, and then look around the airport area. Without a doubt that question was answered incorrectly, and Burlington received more points than it should have. We need the scoring sheets for the other Air Guard bases considered, to see that Burlington was not the top candidate. Unfortunately, the Air Force will not release that data to us without a freedom of information act request.

Process flaw
It was during my conversation with Secretary Kathleen Ferguson, that I learned of process flaws. The Air Force evaluated a base’s suitability for the F-35A in four categories: cost, mission, capacity, and environment. The first category (cost) seemed to be straightforward, as it reflected the cost-of-living in the area. The next two categories (mission and capacity) evaluated whether the base could accommodate the F-35A. It asked whether the airspace and weather in the area would be suitable for the F-35A mission. It asked whether the runway length could accommodate the F-35A. It asked whether the base facilities (maintenance bays, munitions storage and other infrastructure) could accommodate the F-35A.

However, the questions asked in the environmental category were not related to the F-35A. They were related to the existing F-16. The questions were not whether there would be homes and other structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-35A; but whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16. Of course, the answer to that question is ‘YES’ (see above). The process the AF followed in this scoring is mind-boggling. For two categories (mission and capacity), they evaluated the base’s suitability for the future aircraft–the F-35A; but for one category (environment) they evaluated the base’s suitability for the existing aircraft—the F-16.

Argument flaws
Most of the economic impact arguments made in support of basing the F-35A center around the AGS closing. The implied assumption is that if Burlington is not selected now for the F-35A that the AGS will close. No official has ever said that. This basing process is only the first of several rounds for selecting bases for the F-35A. Burlington could likely be selected in a subsequent round. It’s not a “now or never” proposition. But, even were Burlington not selected to base the F-35A in the future, that does not mean the Burlington AGS will close. Despite F-16 retirement predictions, military aircraft often fly years (sometimes decades) beyond their expected lifespan. But even when the F-16 eventually stops flying, that does not mean the AGS will close. The Guard would likely get another mission. As world threat conditions change, military missions change, and bases get new missions.

Others say that supporting the F-35A shows our patriotism and support for the military. I disagree. Giving the Guard an outlandishly-priced weapon system is not the way to show our appreciation. Giving them pay raises, increasing their benefits, insuring they receive adequate health care, insuring their retirement benefits are not reduced, and above all, trying to keep them out of harm’s way are far better ways to support our military members.

We can show our support for the military by opposing the routine practice of paying for extravagant weapon systems by cutting military personnel benefits, salaries, and jobs. The AF routinely reduces the force (fires) military members in order to use this personnel money to pay for weapons. Supporting the F-35A will make senior defense industry executives richer and the average military member poorer.

With all of the above flaws, and the many unanswered questions, many hope it would prompt our Congressional delegates to re-consider their position on F-35A basing. But at a minimum, I respectfully urge them to at least call for a temporary hold on any decision until the scores and the process are reviewed more thoroughly. Without this detailed examination, doubts will forever linger.