Shorter runway’s cheaper and safe

Engineer says county would not have to bother neighbors

HUDSON—In a first for the discussion of the Columbia County Airport, C&S Engineers of Syracuse took the floor at the January 8 Airport Committee meeting, as engineer Chris Brubach outlined three alternatives for expanding the airport’s safety zone and took questions in a standing-room-only meeting.

In another first, Mr. Brubach said that in terms of “obstructions” on the west side of Route 9H, across from the airport–primarily homes and trees–the county doesn’t need to do anything about them. “In a perfect world,” the land would be cleared and lighted, “but it’s not required by the FAA,” he said.

“This is the first time I have heard that,” said Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram), who chairs the Airport Committee. “Those 12 parcels are basically immune?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Brubach. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that all “obstructions” be noted, but the FAA is aware that these are on the outer edges of the Runway Protection Zone.

A dozen private properties mostly north and west of the runway were identified in earlier documents as targets for restrictive easements imposed by the county and meant to assure the safety of jets taking off and landing. Documents referring to the easements on the properties came to light recently when airport neighbors launched their own investigation of airport expansion plans.

Mr. Brubach began his presentation with a brief history of the county airport, which opened in the 1960s with a runway of about 4,200 feet. This was expanded to 5,000 feet in 1987, at a cost of $1.5 million and to 5,350 feet in 1991, at a cost of $1 million. “That’s where it is today,” he said.
In 2003 C&S assisted Columbia County in drawing up a master plan for the airport, including ways to provide a trapezoidal safety zone for jet aircraft. A citizens’ advisory committee helped in considering alternatives. Environmental assessments were made, at a cost of somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000. The alternatives required purchase of 16 acres from the Meadowgreens Golf Course, just north of the airport, but Carmen Nero, principal owner, has refused the county’s offer of $629,000.

Mr. Brubach then discussed the three current safety zone options. The schedule for each of them as described would be for the design phase in 2014 and construction in 2015. Additional environmental assessments, if necessary, would “push everything out a year or two,” he said.
Alternative One and Two are new. They work with a 5,000-foot runway at the cost, respectively of $2.8 million and $3.5 million. Alternative Three, proposed earlier, works with the current 5,350-foot runway and would cost $3.9 million.

Mr. Brubach said he considered his cost estimates conservative and stood by them because they take into consideration when the project will actually be built.

Once the county decides on a plan and has a firm price, then the project would be proposed to the Federal Aviation Administration for grant funding. The FAA share of a project would be 90%, with 5% paid by the state Department of Transportation and 5% paid by Columbia County.
“Yes, it’s a long process,” Mr. Bassin said after the meeting. “That’s why it’s taken 10 years.”

In response to questions about the reduction in flight activity at the airport over the last several years, Mr. Brubach and Mr. Bassin explained that it is not the level of activity that requires the safety zone but the type of aircraft.

“What we’re talking about is creating a safety zone, not expanding the airport or a runway,” Mr. Bassin stressed after the meeting. “We don’t have a safety zone now. We would be installing one to meet FAA guidelines.”

Mr. Brubach had given the committee “two viable 5,000-foot options, one almost a million dollars less expensive than the option that was on the table,” said Mr. Bassin.

“We need to have a conversation about the relative benefits of leaving the airport at 5,350 feet,” he said. That discussion is scheduled for the next Airport Committee meeting, Tuesday, January 21 at 3 p.m. in the Committee Room at 401 State Street.

Shortening the runway to 4,500 feet, “which could be done instantly, at virtually no cost,” is also a possibility, said Mr. Bassin.

“I think we’re zeroing in on something that will be a common-sense approach to meeting the needs of all constituents, and the public is participating in the process,” he said. He added that if a project is acceptable to Richmor Aviation, the private company that runs the airport, and for the neighbors, “it will work for the county.”

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