Grattan seeks to assure airport critics

HUDSON—To say that Supervisor Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook), an attorney, was in the witness stand at Monday’s Airport Committee meeting, would be an exaggeration.

A slight exaggeration.

Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram), who chairs the Airport Committee, invited Mr. Grattan, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, to the meeting so that he could talk to the committee and public about his recent decision to designate the Airport Committee as a subcommittee of the Public Works Committee.

Supervisor Mike Benson (R-New Lebanon) chairs Public Works. He was a member of the Airport Committee but rarely attended meetings and when he did he seemed to many observers to be at odds with the consensus of the committee. He resigned from the committee earlier this year but continues to email his opinions to Mr. Bassin.

About two-dozen people attended Monday’s meeting, many of them from Ghent, where the airport is situated. They expressed concern that although Mr. Benson could not veto proposals from the Airport Committee, he could undercut the committee’s work. Mr. Benson was not present at Monday’s meeting.

Mr. Grattan responded that the Public Works is a bipartisan committee of nine members. The chair has only one vote. Further, he said, each committee or subcommittee needs the approval of only one other committee before bringing a resolution to the full Board of Supervisors. And each committee or subcommittee must go through the Finance Committee.

The audience members, most of whom had attended months of Airport Committee meetings, described Mr. Benson’s statements as confusing and condescending during the sessions he attended. A committee chair “can steer a meeting,” said one man “and throw in facts that are inaccurate.”

“What prompted you to make this decision?” asked Patti Matheney, who spearheaded the citizen effort against expansion of the airport, which is near her home. “It’s clear that on two separate occasions, most recently in July, Mr. Benson… said that he wanted the Airport Committee disbanded.

She said Mr. Grattan had made Public Works the home committee for the airport panel “without discussing it with the committee. The Airport Committee was moving along just fine and had several issues before it that Mr. Benson was not aware of, that he said he was unaware of.”

In response, Mr. Grattan recalled that from 1994 to 2003 he had worked in the county attorney’s office, where he was responsible for contracts at the airport. “All of them came from the Public Works Committee. So I see that as a natural place for construction to be handled,” said the chairman.

Forming the Airport Committee and appointing Mr. Bassin its chair was not a “political decision,” on his part, said Mr. Grattan, but a practical decision “in that I recognized that the airport needed much more attention paid to it.” Further, he said, the Airport Committee offered an opportunity for public input that the Public Works Committee, with its full plate of countywide issues, could not.

Asked whether Mr. Benson still wants to disband the Airport Committee, Mr. Grattan said, “I can’t speak for him. But as long as I chair the Board of Supervisors, there will be an Airport Committee.”

Mr. Grattan added that there are no “wallflowers” on the Public Works Committee.

Mr. Bassin, the airport panel chairman, said Mr. Benson “did what he thought was right” and would not have more influence on the Public Works Committee than he on the Airport Committee, which did not adopt his suggestions. “I think we can make this work, and if, in six months, it doesn’t work, we’ll have another conversation,” he said.

Mr. Grattan confirmed that Mr. Bassin would continue to set Airport Committee meeting dates and agendas and chair the meetings.

Sarah Sterling (D-Hudson 1st Ward) and Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant) were tentatively appointed to the Airport Committee members, and Airport Committee member Michael Benvenuto (R-Ghent) was named to Public Works, pending approval of the full board.

In other business:

  • Public Works Commissioner David Robinson said he had talked to the Federal Aviation Administration about the nighttime touch-and-go training landings that “bother the neighbors.” The county cannot restrict use of the airport, and the nighttime landings are a crucial part of pilot training. The county can issue voluntary noise abatement guidelines that reflect the wishes of the community and post them in the airport
  • The Committee heard from Bill Stanwyck of Stanwyck Avionics in Newburgh, who discussed his count of flights at the county airport between September 1, 2010 and August 31, 2011. He said he did the study on his own as he was finishing a degree in airport management and that “no one funded it.”

He based the count voice transmissions made by pilots over the airport’s CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) as captured by the digital voice recorder at the airport. Over the course of the year, he said there were just under 17,815 “operations,” of which 11,076 involved local take-offs and landings. an average of 48.8 operations per day.

“I listened to them all,” he said, and determined the type of aircraft (single engine, multi engine, helicopter, jet) from the sound. He said he spent “140 hours” compiling the report.

Mr. Stanwyck’s figures are much higher than those provided by Richmor Aviation, the airport’s operator, and Fight Aware, a data service.

“The only way we’re going to get peace on this issue is to install the tracking cameras we’ve been talking about,” said Mr. Bassin.

Mr. Robinson said that he was including the cost of camera tracking—$28,000—in his 2015 budget. “I have only enough money now for maintenance, not capital improvements,” he said.

“Wouldn’t the FAA reimburse us?” asked Mr. Bassin.

“I don’t think so,” said Mr. Robinson.

“Let’s ask,” said Mr. Bassin.

The next Airport Committee meeting is Monday, September 22 at 6 p.m. in the Committee Room at 401 State Street.

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