FAA OKs shorter runway, ending airport flap

GHENT—Paint a line across the runway, move some fence, move some lights and it’s done: the Columbia County Airport will be in compliance with Federal Aviation Authority runway safety requirements.

The cost should be under $200,000, Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram) said Tuesday, not the $3 million the county was looking at last year, and the work should be completed this year.

That is, after hours of Airport Committee meetings and research last year, the FAA has confirmed that for safety, Columbia County needs a shorter runway safety area (300 feet) not a longer one (1,000 feet). The confirmation is verbal, as of last week; written confirmation is pending an FAA review of pen-and-ink drawings, similar to planning maps, of the proposed changes.

Passero Associates, of Rochester, the county’s new airport consultants, have made the drawings and submitted them, said Mr. Bassin.

Previously, the FAA had assigned the county airport DII status, which covered 500 annual operations—each takeoff and landing is an operation—and would have required the longer runway safety area (RSA). In fact, operations at the county airport of the type of aircraft that would have triggered the longer safety area is fewer than 200 per year, and the airport has over a mile of approach visibility. So last summer the FAA recommended BII status for the airport, resulting in different RSA requirements, including a 300-foot RSA.

The FAA pays for 90% of the work, New York State 5% and Columbia County 5%. The 300-foot RSA can be effected with land already owned by county, 200 feet off the end of the runway and 100 feet of runway re-designated as the RSA. Since the airport does not serve large jets, the shorter runway is permitted.

The RSA project need not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying land from Meadowgreens Restaurant and Golf Course, at the airport’s north end, or taking any Meadowgreens land by eminent domain, both of which possibilities were discussed at length in the past.

In other changes regarding the airport, Supervisor Mike Benvenuto (R-Ghent) now chairs the Airport Subcommittee, which is part of the Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee. Mr. Bassin previously chaired the Airport Committee.

Last December Mr. Benvenuto, Mr. Bassin, Supervisor Mike Benson (R-New Lebanon, chair of Public Works), former county engineer David Robinson and Dean Knox, director of the county’s Engineering Division, met with five possible airport advisors, including C&S Companies, which had been the county’s airport advisor for many years.

The group chose Passero Associates unanimously, said Mr. Bassin. “Nothing against C&S,” he said. “Passero seemed more enthusiastic, more in sync with our thinking.”

Bruce Clark, who is based in Albany, is the local contact for Passero. He has already helped to update the Airport Capital Improvement Plan and gone forward with grant applications to the FAA, Mr. Benvenuto said. After the RSA improvements, the next project is to design an improved inadvertent entry fence, he said.

Each year, Mr. Benvenuto explained, the Columbia County Airport is allotted $150,000 from the FAA. “We have at least $450,000 unspent,” he said, since the FAA would not consider any other grant applications until the RSA issue was resolved. Passero is applying for grants now under that allotment.

“If you don’t apply within a certain number of years,” said Mr. Benvenuto, “the money is taken away.”

Working with the Airport Subcommittee, Mr. Clark will also review the airport’s master plan, the last one of which is dated 2003. “We’ll keep things fresh and updated with the airport,” said Mr. Benvenuto, who also thanked Mr. Knox for his help: “He’s very knowledgeable about the airport, has worked with the FAA over the years and knows people at Passero.

“It’s exciting that we can move forward, with a much smaller project than originally proposed,” said Mr. Benvenuto.

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