Months in the making, county adopts runway plan

HUDSON—The plan for a new Runway Safety Area at the south end of the Columbia County Airport on land the county owns was passed by the county Board of Supervisors at its April 9 meeting.

The committee that spent months studying the airport recommended a plan that reduced the cost and avoids the need for the county to take or buy any private property.

 

The roll-call vote was decisive, with only three supervisors—Michael Benson (R-New Lebanon), John Reilly (R-Gallatin) and Erik Tyree (I-Taghkanic) voting against the resolution. Supervisor Raymond Staats (D-Clermont) was absent and Supervisor Matt Murell (R-Stockport) recused himself, since he is a member of the group that owns the Meadowgreens Golf Course, just north of the airport.

The county’s weighted vote system made the vote 3,029 in favor to 305 opposed, a result greeted with applause from some in the audience of about 50.

While the vote took minutes, hours of Airport Committee meetings, pages of email and at least four counter-proposals had preceded it, literally to the last minute. On April 7 Carmen Nero, president of CN Production Management, which owns the Meadowgreens Golf Course property, emailed a letter to the Airport Committee chairman, Supervisor Art Bassin (D- Ancram), offering to accept $1.25 million for the property so that the county could use it for the airport safety upgrade.

On April 8, Mr. Bassin responded that Mr. Nero’s offer was the same plan already proposed twice by Mr. Nero and once by Mr. Benson, except that the costs were lower, unrealistically so.

On April 9, at the Airport Committee meeting that preceded the full board meeting, Mr. Nero’s proposal was discussed. Mr. Benson, a committee member, supported the general concept of the county’s owning the Meadowngreens property and Mr. Nero’s proposal in particular. When the discussion turned to whether or not the county could trim some tall trees on the Meadowgreens property, Mr. Benson said, “If you buy the property, you can do anything you want!”

Nevertheless, the committee voted to reject Mr. Nero’s proposal. Later in the meeting, as discussion of access and trees continued, Supervisor Michael Benvenuto (R-Ghent) mused, “If we spent $1.2 million, we could trim a tree.”

Both Republicans and Democrats caucused separately before the full board meeting. Mr. Benson presented his plan to the Republican caucus, said one supervisor who attended, and Mr. Bassin then presented what is known as the Porreca Plan, for John Porreca (R-Greenport), who first introduced it. “I don’t think anyone’s mind was changed” by the presentations, said the supervisor, who declined to have his name used.

Before the full board meeting, Mr. Nero distributed to the audience a one-page biography that began with his birth in 1958 and included the 2006 purchase of Meadowgreens. This was for background, he said, because he was going to speak to the board.

The board chairman, Supervisor Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook), at first refused Mr. Tyree’s request to have Mr. Nero speak, and then put the question to a roll-call vote. Voting yes, to allow Mr. Nero to speak, were Supervisors Bassin, Clifford “Kippy” Weigelt (R-Claverack), Reilly, Edward Cross (D-Ward 2, Hudson), William Hughes (D- Ward 4, Hudson), Richard Scalera (I-Ward 5, Hudson), Mr. Benson and Mr. Tyree. Mr. Murell recused himself. The weighted vote was 2,274 nays and 1,502 ayes.

As the meeting continued, Mr. Nero’s voice could be heard from the hallway, and at one point the police officer who attends the full board meetings asked him to keep it down.

The next Airport Committee meeting is May 14. “I recommend that this committee meet once a month, to keep an eye on this thing and make sure it happens,” said Mr. Bassin.

The next steps are for the Porreca Plan to be presented to the Federal Aviation Administration for its review.

In other business, the full board:
•After a public hearing with discussion, unanimously adopted a local law that will allow the awarding of public contracts on the basis of either lowest responsible bidder or on the basis of best value. State law has changed to allow acceptance of “best value” bids, and municipalities are changing their laws, said Mr. Fitzsimmons. With this change, the county can “piggyback” on projects awarded by best value; without the change, it could not.

•Appointed Mr. Weigelt to the Airport Committee

•Learned from Mr. Grattan that he had appointed development commissioner Ken Flood to oversee use of the $250,000 grant Mr. Flood had obtained for water consolidations between Claverack and Hudson, and also to spearhead the county’s efforts to expand broadband Internet access. It was an “eye-opener” for him to learn that a number of small businesses in the county can’t access broadband, said Mr. Grattan, and that online access is interrupted at for least one “good-sized” business and “kids can’t participate” in school projects because they don’t have online access at home. Federal and state grants are available for broadband expansion, he said

•Passed resolutions 131 through 180. The only hiccup was when three Democratic Hudson supervisors—Sarah Sterling, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Cross—voted against #146, authorizing the county sheriff’s office to enter into agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration. “The state is moving toward allowing medical use of marijuana and may even legalize it,” Mr. Hughes said after the meeting. “If that’s the case, then why are we going down that road, further enhancing something that will be obsolete in a year or two?”

•Before the meeting about 20 people demonstrated in front of the county office building in support of keeping Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont a county facility, whether for the elderly in general or veterans in particular. The demonstrators also attended the meeting, but Pine Haven was not discussed.

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