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Plan derailed

Saratoga County rejects runway extension plan

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
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Plan derailed


Michael Churchill of McFarland Johnson presents a master plan update regarding Saratoga County Airport expansions on Monday.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Michael Churchill of McFarland Johnson presents a master plan update regarding Saratoga County Airport expansions on Monday.

— Saratoga County’s Buildings and Grounds Committee on Monday voted down plans to expand the main runway at the county airport in Milton.

The expansion proposal from consultants updating the airport master plan has drawn furious opposition from people who live in the neighborhoods around the airport, and more than 150 people crowded into the meeting room, many holding up signs opposing expansion.

Committee Chairman Dan Lewza, R-Milton, has sided with residents as an outspoken opponent.

“The runway expansion is dead in the water,” he said after the committee vote at the meeting in Ballston Spa.

He said the committee’s position is that there should be no runway expansions or airport activity off airport grounds, and no changes on private property without the owner’s approval, even tree-cutting.

The Federal Aviation Administration, however, will still have the ability to order tree-cutting if it is considered an aviation safety issue.

The committee voted 6-0 against supporting plans to extend the airport’s main runway either 300 feet or 800 feet, both of which would have required taking some private property at the end of the runways.

The airport’s operator, North American Flight Services, had said even extending the main runway from 4,700 feet to 5,000 feet would improve safety for airport users.

The company, however, declined to criticize the committee action.

“The Building and Grounds Committee voted how they thought was best for the county,” said Jon Zilka, North American’s airport manager.

But the issue will come up in another 10 years, he said, the next time the airport master plan has to be updated.

The committee’s vote against the expansion was greeted with applause from the audience.

“I thank you for voting no,” said David Burton, one of the residents crowding the room.

“We’ve been going door to door to door,” said Tom Harris, one of the residents organizing the opposition campaign, which has included roadside signs.

The Milton Town Board also passed a resolution opposing expansion of the runways.

The prospect of runway expansion drew more than 250 people to a community input meeting in May at a firehouse near the airport.

The official presentation of the draft master plan to the committee was Monday.

“These are options and alternatives. No decisions have been made,” project manager Michael Churchill of airport planning consultants McFarland-Johnson said in presenting the plan. “It provides nothing more than a roadmap.”

He said that even with no extension of the runway, the FAA may require removal of more trees because of new national guidelines for the clear zones at runway ends.

A private jet in 2008 clipped a treetop while landing at night, leading to a large tree-clearing project along Geyser Road that angered many residents. Nighttime instrument landings have also been prohibited since November because of concerns about obstructions.

“There is no runway now that is totally obstruction-free,” Churchill said.

Lewza said he had no problem with tree clearing on private land if the landowner and county reach an agreement, but he doesn’t want to see eminent domain used.

Other committee members agreed.

“I am absolutely personally opposed to anything that looks like eminent domain unless there is incredible public good,” said Supervisor Jean Raymond, R-Edinburg.

Supervisor Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, abstained, saying he felt he had a conflict of interest because he is on the board of Gateway House of Peace, a nonprofit hospice program that leases a building near the runway clear zone from the county.

The committee will continue with discussion of some other proposed improvements, including constructing new taxiways and a new area where gliders can operate away from motorized aircraft.

“Our position is we want to see a more comprehensive discussion,” said Peter Bardunias, president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County. “I think everyone’s heart is in the right place.”

 
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