EDITORIAL: Committee sets new standard

THE MEMBERS OF the Airport Committee of the county Board of Supervisors may not be remembered fondly by their colleagues now and in the future. The committee has had the nerve to produce a concise, detailed report, written in plain English. It presents relevant facts, precise goals and a reasonable, affordable plan for making the airport safer. Who do they think they are?

The most time-honored antidote for those exposed to effective, responsive government is to smother it with delays and roadblocks. There was a preview of just that earlier this month when the Airport Committee agreed to postpone for a month action on its proposal to develop a new, less expensive plan for improving safety at the north end of the Columbia County Airport runway.

In fairness, few supervisors had adequate time to review the committee’s proposal and the committee has avoided drama intended to foster a false sense of urgency. But there was a last minute surprise and these factors led to the decision to take a little more time for deliberation. Any further postponements, though, would signal an attempt to scuttle an important project and the open government approach behind it.

In this case, another common tactic was used to try to undermine progress: ignoring the facts in an effort to invent a new reality. It was employed by Carmen Nero, one of the principals in CN Production Management Enterprises, LLC, the entity that owns the Meadowgreens Golf Course, which sits at the north end of the airport and has been at the center of the controversy over how to improve airport safety.

The county’s original plan was to purchase 16 acres of the golf course for $629,000 for an expanded safety zone at the end of the runway. Less than half that amount was to pay for the property; the balance was intended to help reconstruct the golf course. When Mr. Nero and his associates rejected that offer as insufficient, the county prepared to take the land by its power of eminent domain. That heavy-handed approach by the county won Mr. Nero popular support and may well have convinced him that he could get a higher price.

The threat of eminent domain proceedings also put county plans for the airport in the spotlight, and those plans suddenly didn’t look very reliable. That led to the formation of the committee and to a series of public meetings. Among the discoveries made along the way was that the Federal Aviation Administration is not ordering the county to make changes to the airport runway approaches, contrary to what some officials had previously asserted.

At the last meeting of the Airport Committee, held just before the committee’s resolution was to go before the board, Mr. Nero showed up with what he said were four “proposals” for working out a deal for some or all of the golf course. In a note explaining his sudden willingness to make a deal after essentially daring the county to take his land, Mr. Nero wrote that creating a runway safety zone on his golf course was “the obvious choice.” Apparently he had not read the committee’s notes nor followed the discussions that showed without a doubt that using his property was likely to be more expensive and disruptive than the committee’s alternative.

Mr. Nero seems to have realized too late that he made a big miscalculation. Perhaps he didn’t understand that there are alternatives or perhaps he did and was betting that no one would notice. Either way, he didn’t account for a committee of county government being able to marshal the facts in a way that makes his last minute plea for money he previously scorned sound kind of sad. None of this makes him a victim. He’s just a businessman who bet against the county and lost.

In the respectful manner typical of the committee’s style throughout, Airport Committee Chairman Art Bassin (D-Ancram) and the members of the panel agreed to consider Mr. Nero’s offers at the committee’s February 24 at 3 p.m. at 401 State Street. But there is little likelihood anything will change, because Mr. Nero has not offered any new facts that would contradict the plan the committee has already endorsed. Wishful thinking doesn’t count.

Still, the committee can use all the support it can get. Its report and process are the new templates for all county projects. The bar has been raised and there are some who’d prefer the public not know that the standards are higher now.

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