June 19, 2013

Editorial: F-35 jets aren't needed here


---- — Plattsburgh and the North Country have had their love affair with the U.S. military. It endured for two centuries and was a fulfilling relationship for both.

But it ended abruptly in 1995, and there is little, if anything, to indicate that a rekindling would be possible or even advisable.

Plattsburgh’s military history is as long as the nation’s. Longer. During the Revolutionary War, Plattsburgh was the scene of pivotal engagements.

But the military — or, more accurately, Congress — jilted Plattsburgh in the early to mid-1990s, closing Plattsburgh Air Force Base in favor of McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

But thanks to years of dedicated effort, Plattsburgh got back on its feet, developing private enterprise where previously military money had flowed. Local visionaries with an eye for economic opportunity reconfigured Plattsburgh Air Force Base into a commercial and industrial center that no longer lies hostage to politics or global tensions.

By all accounts, the North Country is better off now, sitting behind an economic engine piloted by CEOs rather than generals.

Yet it’s tempting, in some ways, when talk of another military mission is floated.

Our neighbors across Lake Champlain are squabbling over whether to endorse a new military mission of their own — hosting a force of F-35 fighter jets.

The Air Force has included Burlington as one of five sites being considered for stationing the F-35s, the others being in Utah, Idaho, South Carolina and Florida.

The biggest concerns being voiced in Vermont are about the noise that would accompany a new fleet of jets and about potential accident zones near the flight line.

When PAFB was in full operation here and residents would mention noise as an inconvenient byproduct of an Air Force presence, they would sometimes be sternly reminded that that noise was the sound of freedom, more to be appreciated than scorned.

Some local discussions lately have focused on whether it would be prudent to toss Plattsburgh’s name into the hat for consideration for the mission that Vermonters seem reluctant to accept. Rep. Bill Owens has let the Vermont Air National Guard know that he supports the idea of Plattsburgh hosting the jets.

Though the accompanying jobs would be welcome here, our reaction is to say no thanks, unless the cost is borne by the Air Force. We’re told Clinton County would have to spend in the neighborhood of $20 million to restructure the thriving Plattsburgh International Airport flight line for use by the military again.

That is impractical. And unnecessary. We’ve done remarkably well without the military, and all signs point to our being able to continue to do so.

Plattsburgh and the military were successful together for centuries. But this area has found a new and successful match in private development.