Never mind! County now needs shorter runway zone

HUDSON—Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram) said it in a June 6 email: “The headline,” he wrote, is that the Columbia County Airport doesn’t need a 1,000-foot Runway Safety Area. Rather than lengthening the runway to improve safety, the county needs to shorten it, by 100 feet.

The news comes after months of meetings and research that included threats to take land by eminent domain and assurance from some county officials that the federal government would be unlikely to fund future projects at the county airport if the runway safety area was not extended.

 

The change was a result of a June 5 conference call with the Federal Aviation Administration during which Mr. Bassin and others learned that because the Columbia County Airport has fewer than 500 jet flights per year, the FAA can change the airport’s classification and require the shorter runway safety area (RSA) that it requires for busier airports.

Jet operations—each takeoff and landing is an operation—at the county airport number about 360 per year. Because the airport has over a mile of approach visibility, 300 feet is enough for the FAA.

Maylon Richards of Richmor Aviation, the fixed-base operator at the airport, said that it’s enough for his business too, and he’s the one flying most of the jets at the airport.

Asked why, during six months of frequent meetings of the Board of Supervisors Airport Committee, voluminous research, reams of email and hours of public comment, this solution had not been discovered, Mr. Bassin said, “We had a plan for a 1,000-foot safety zone for 10 years, based on 1987 estimates. We submitted it to the FAA in 2012 and they approved it. They approved the county’s buying 16 acres from the Meadowgreens Golf Course for $629,000.

“What no one focused on,” he continued, “was the actual number of jets versus the projected number.”

The county gave the FAA plans and projections based on a 1987 master plan. “During that period we weren’t really tracking actual annual numbers, we just knew that planes were coming and going,” he said.

As part of the months-long process of the Airport Committee, which Mr. Bassin chaired, an effort was made to pin down the total number of operations of all types of aircraft and of jets, which require a longer runway. Despite discovering the lower number, “we wanted to keep the airport jet-capable,” so the committee put forth the Porreca Plan, first suggested by Supervisor John Porreca (R-Greenport). This would have extended the RSA at the southern end of the airport on land the county owns.

If traffic at the county airport ever grew to the level of more than 500 jet operations per year, the county would have to go back to the 1,000-foot RSA and would resubmit the Porreca Plan, Mr. Bassin said. But in the call FAA representatives said that based on recent trends they don’t think such an increase in jet traffic is likely any time soon, according to Mr. Bassin.

Kenneth Flood, the county planning and economic development commissioner, could not be reached for comment.

The FAA also suggested, Mr. Bassin wrote in an email, that the county “install an airplane counting camera to get accurate operations numbers, and an airport GIS to better track obstacles.”

The airport still needs what are called avigation easements from Meadowgreens, but that area will also be smaller than anticipated, said Mr. Bassin. “We need to scope that out and define how many acres we need.” Previously, 90 acres were needed; now the acreage “is probably much less, but I don’t know much,” said Mr. Bassin.

Once that figure is ascertained, the county will have the acreage appraised and then work out an agreement with Carmen Nero, president of CN Production Management, which owns the Meadowgreens property, or barring that, take the land by eminent domain.

In the meantime, county engineer David Robinson will prepare a revised runway layout plan. Runway lights will need to be moved, and markers put in difference places. “The FAA indicated they wanted to see grant applications ASAP for the update to environmental assessments, which should be minor, and for the design and construction changes to the runway,” Mr. Bassin said in his email.

“There is a chance we could get these funds in 2014 if we get the grant applications in within a month,” he wrote. “We will also prepare a grant application for the appraisal of the value of the needed aviation easements.”

The FAA pays 90% of any airport-related work that it approves. New York State pays 5% and the county 5%.

In other business before the Airport Committee, at the May 27 meeting:

•Matthew VanDerbeck of Pattison, Koskey, Howe & Bucci, CPAs, reported that an audit of Richmor Aviation’s compliance with its fixed-base operator contract with the county found Richmor in compliance. The audit was done at the request of Ron Caponera, accounts payable director for the county

•County attorney Robert Fitzsimmons reported that Mr. Nero would not give the county permission to remove three trees that have caused the FAA to close the airport runway to night landings. At Mr. Bassin’s suggestion, the county will bring all avigation easement needs to Mr. Nero at one time. The easements will allow the county to remove the trees

•Mr. Nero addressed the Committee and distributed a comparison of three airport runway plans: the Porreca Plan; the Benson Plan, put forth by Supervisor Michael Benson (R-New Lebanon); and Plan W, his plan, along with his resume.
The Airport Committee meets next on Monday, June 23, at 6 p.m. in the Committee Room at 401 State Street.

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