Committee approves improved safety plan at Ghent runway
HUDSON—The Airport Committee of the County Board of Supervisors voted March 24 to accept a plan that creates a runway safety area at the southern end of the county airport on land the county already owns.
The vote, 4 to 1, was greeted by applause from many in the audience of residents who have followed the process for months.
David Crawford of Crawford Engineering, who sits on the committee as board president of the Columbia Economic Development Committee, was the sole nay vote. Voting yes with Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram), who chairs the Airport Committee, were Art Baer (D-Hillsdale), Mike Benvenuto (R-Ghent) and John Porreca (R-Greenport), who first introduced the solution the Committee adopted, after five months of public meetings.
Supervisor Mike Benson (R-New Lebanon), a committee member who had delayed the vote by proposing the county buy all or part of the Meadowgreens Golf Course property north of the airport, was absent.
Supervisor Clifford “Kippy” Weigelt (R-Claverack) abstained. His membership on the committee is pending full board approval, and this was his first meeting.
The county Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on the decision Thursday, March 27, at a 2 p.m. meeting at 401 State Street. If the committee’s proposal, referred to now as the Porreca Plan, is okayed by the finance panel and then approved by the full Board of Supervisors in April, it would then be proposed to the Federal Aviation Authority for grant funding.
Discussion prior to the vote Monday mostly reiterated points made previously. In a new wrinkle, Mr. Weigelt said the he would support the Porreca Plan as long as it didn’t impact Ginsberg’s, the food distribution company not far from the airport in the Town of Claverack. Ginsberg’s is considering whether to build a new water tower, which might be seen as an obstruction in the Runway Safety Area. But plans for the water tower are not confirmed and the tower might have an impact on the airport even in its current configuration.
From the audience, Carmen Nero, managing partner of the group that owns Meadowgreens, the golf course north of the runway, said he still believed in the “resort concept” for his 150-acre property. “I’m willing to work with everyone here. I support what’s going on; you guys just make a decision that’s all I want,” he said.
“Do you want to propose that we accept the Porreca Plan?” asked Mr. Bassin.
Mr. Nero had previously proposed that the county buy Meadowgreens and lease it back to him for development. That proposal is not part of the Porreca Plan. “I need support from the Town of Ghent,” he said, referring to the town where both the airport and Meadowgreens are located. “If we all work together, we’ll have a facility,” Mr. Nero said.
“That’s a good proposal, thank you,” said Mr. Bassin.
Mr. Crawford objected to a lack of time to review a comparison of the Porreca Plan versus the last-minute proposal from Mr. Benson. The comparison was prepared by Mr. Bassin and emailed to interested parties prior to Monday’s meeting. The email indicates that the Porreca plan would cost less and achieve the same goals.
“But I think the tax implications are suspect in both lines,” Mr. Crawford said.
Mr. Bassin calculated that the Porreca Plan would have no impact on property and sales tax, while the Benson Plan would result in a $1 million to $1.5 million property tax loss over 50 years. Mr. Crawford said Meadowgreens wouldn’t pay as much in taxes as the comparison predicts.
Mr. Nero supported that view, saying that airport easements that restrict development on the property would lower the value of his property.
“Crap again,” said Mr. Porreca. He said the sales tax impact between the two plans “doesn’t compare.”
“Let’s not argue,” said Mr. Bassin, who urged the committee members to consider Mr. Crawford’s point when they voted.
When Mr. Bassin called the Porreca Plan the “most responsible,” Mr. Crawford disagreed. He reminded the committee that the county would pay only 5% of the purchase price of the land, with the FAA and the state picking up the rest. “For a few thousand dollars, we get control over those 150 acres,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of land adjacent to the airport for development. I like Meadowgreens, but courses are struggling to find golfers.
There’s an advantage to the county’s getting more land to be developed.”
“For what?” asked Mr. Bassin.
“I’m not sure,” said Mr. Crawford.
“Let’s agree that there is disagreement as to the value of development,” said Mr. Bassin. “My sense is that Mr. Nero has a better chance of developing the property than the county, and it’s silly for the county to bank land without a plan for it.”
Mr. Bassin also called “silly” the argument that the county would pay only 5% of the land’s purchase price. “We’re paying with taxpayer money one way or the another,” he said. “We can’t waste federal money and then sit around and complain about Washington. I’m tired of that 5% argument.”
“I totally disagree,” said Mr. Crawford.
“OK,” said Mr. Bassin. “Disagreement is good.”
Prior to voting, the committee reviewed its proposal one more time, with the aid of a drawing provided by David Robinson, public works commissioner. While the takeoff area would be 5,000 feet (instead of 5,350 feet), the landing area would be 4,950 feet, with a Runway Safety Area to the south of the airport. When Mr. Bassin asked if there were way to “squeeze out another 50 feet” without disturbing the Mud Creek Environmental Learning Center, Mr. Robinson said no, except, he said, “We can ask the FAA for a 50-foot variance.”
After the vote, the committee talked time line. Mr. Robinson estimated three or four months for FAA review; a year for planning and design, which includes acquiring avigation easements; and 12 to 15 months for construction. “But,” he said, such estimates were “like buying a car: the first person who mentions a number loses.”