By Katy Savage
There’s a new kind of welcome sign as people cross the New York border into Vermont.
A large billboard in Hampton, New York, about five minutes from Vermont on Route 4, shows a cartoon depiction of a family on a road trip. The lettering beside them reads, “Welcome to Vermont, Future Home of USA’s New Nuclear Bomber. Phil Scott Governor.”
The billboard is sponsored by a group called Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont. The idea was led in part by Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen, who has long been vocal about his opposition to F-25 jets, set to arrive to Vermont National Guard base in Burlington this September.
The F-35 jets, which are designed to carry nuclear bombs, have caused controversy. The F-35 jets are specifically built to carry two nuclear bombs. Each bomb has a maximum yield of 50 kilotons, which is three times the size of the 15 kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which killed 146,000 people.
“Nuclear bombers don’t belong in commercial airports in residential neighborhoods,” said James Ehlers, a former gubernatorial candidate and naval officer on behalf of the group.
Though the F-35 jets are designed to carry nuclear weapons, none of them do yet. There are no current plans for Burlington’s fleet to carry bombs, officials have said, but advocates say they’re concerned about the potential harm the jets could cause.
“The plan laid out in multiple statements from military officials is that they are going to have that capability. They are working on it right now,” said Col. Roseanne Greco, a veteran with 30 years of experience and expertise in nuclear bombs.
Greco is not part of the CANBVT group, but she said the billboard brings up an important message.
“Most people don’t know this,” Greco said. “How do you get the word out?”
CANBVT formed in February to protest the F-35 nuclear jets.
The group paid about $700 for the billboard, drawn by well-known New York cartoonist Jeff Danziger.
The billboard went up mid-April and will stay until mid-May.
Planning for the billboard started months ago. Vermont’s laws forbid billboards, but the New York highway seemed like an ideal place.
“As long as New York’s going to embrace them, I’m going to use them,” Ehlers said. “I think it’s been an effective educational tool in the sense that there are still a good number of people who aren’t aware that the department of defense is relying heavily on the F-35 in our nuclear strategy.”
The organizers are also urging people to sign a petition.
“Our current nuclear arsenal can destroy the world 10 times over,” the petition, signed by about 2,000 people, reads: “That’s crazy. It’s time to stand up and say ‘HELL NO.’”
Around the same time the billboard went up, Vermont Reps. Brian Cina and Jim McCullough proposed a House resolution to strongly oppose the basing of any nuclear weapon delivery system in Vermont. The resolution, H.R.7, is currently being considered by the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.
McCullough said he’s had mixed reactions to the proposed resolution.
“For me it’s not specifically about the F-35s but rather that…there is a special bomb being designed to fit that airplane,” Mccullough said. “The expansion of the nuclear war machine is not in the planet’s best interest.”
Ehlers said the billboard has drawn some “colorful remarks” with people calling him a “communist” and threatening to “hunt” him down, he said.
“It’s kind of disappointing, but not surprising,” he said. “That’s why education and open discussion is so important. This concerns me a great deal.”