County supervisors recently launched a fact-finding committee to clear the air around the county’s proposal of expanding the safety zone at its airport, in Ghent, after delays responding to citizen’s Freedom of Information Law requests resulted in a lawsuit.
The Board of Supervisors’ Airport Committee met Nov. 6, at Columbia County Economic Development Commissioner Ken Flood’s invitation, with Richmor Aviation’s management team for a scheduled tour of the airport’s proposed safety zone, but ran out of daylight. They did, however, hold discussions with three Federal Aviation Administration officials and multiple representatives from C&S Companies, the Syracuse-based consulting agency that, in 2003, engineered Columbia County’s master plan, Chairman Art Bassin, D-Ancram, said.
Supervisors Art Baer, NOP-Hillsdale, John Porecca, R-Greenport, and Crawford & Associates President David Crawford, an environmental engineer, were in attendance at the Nov. 6 Airport Committe meetup member Supervisor Mike Benson, R-New Lebanon, could not attend.
County Public Works Commissioner David Robinson and Dean Knox, director of Columbia County’s Engineering Division, also attended the Nov. 6 talks that Bassin said lasted several hours.
“We all basically talked about the FAA’s requirements for a safety zone,” he added. “The FAA made it clear there was no deadline for putting in a safety zone. But, they did want to focus on it.”
The federal agency’s three officials also afforded Columbia County a choice. Either the county negotiates, or takes, Meadowgreens land to lengthen the airport’s safety zone by 1,000 feet, or shorten its runway.
“If you don’t want to acquire new land to expand the safety zone, we could allocate a portion of the existing runway,” Bassin said.
Should the Columbia County Airport reduce its runway from 5,300, to 4,500 feet, instead, “we’d still meet that requirement,” he added.
Questions about the implications that might have, though, are still to be answered, Bassin said. Conversations with Richmor’s management team revealed approximately 3 percent of the company’s operations are reliant on aircraft that, if fully-loaded, could no longer fly in and out of Ghent on 4,500-feet of runway.
Business traffic at Richmor has, for the last five years, been affected by the nation’s economic turbulence, Bassin said. Part of the committee’s draft agenda calls for further review of the airport’s operating costs and revenues, in addition to former and future investments, as needed.
“Mid-term issues” identified by the agenda include reviews of the county’s decade-old C&S Airport Master Plan, the state-commissioned Airport Technical Plan for 2011, and last year’s Empire State Development grant application, for $2.5 million, to enhance water and sewage services for Commerce Park and the “Upper Hudson Valley Regional Airport.”
Committee members are asked on the agenda to either “reconfirm and readopt or modify” the county and state’s strategic plans, from 2003 and 2011, before they invest the $8 million to $13 million of taxpayer money required by the state’s Airport Technical Plan.
Funded by the New York State Department of Transportation, the 2011 McFarland-Johnson Inc. study Flood cited at October’s public hearing reported the Columbia County Airport created 95 jobs, and brought in an additional $7.6 million of annual income. Consultants from McFarland-Johnson Inc. valued the airport’s annual economic impact on the county at $20 million.
More immediate items on the agenda included appointing Claverack, Hudson and Ghent supervisors to the Airport Committee, speaking to pilots, and repealing the county’s offer to buy Meadowgreens land, pending the completion of the committee’s assignment.
Carmen Nero, Meadowgreens’ principal owner, has so far refused the county’s $629,000 offer for his land so that Columbia County Airport’s safety zone could be in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
Committee members also concerned themselves about meeting regularly, at least twice a month, and the county’s transparency.
“I will ask Rob Fitzsimmons to let us know when the FOIL requests to the County about the airport have been responded to, so the Committee can review the materials that have been assembled in response to the FOIL requests,” Bassin said, via email, to committee members.
Public outcry around unaddressed Freedom of Information requests accompanied earlier deliberations by the county’s elected leaders if they should either negotiate, or seize by eminent domain, the 16 acres needed from the adjacent Meadowgreens Golf Course, in addition to 90 acres of conservation easements.
On Oct. 4, attorney Ken Dow filed a suit on behalf of Ghent residents Michael Schrom and Kevin Delahanty in state Supreme Court against Columbia County. The suit alleges Columbia County did not respond quickly enough to the men’s Freedom of Information Law requests about the county’s communications with the Federal Aviation Administration, agreements with Richmor Aviation, C&S Engineers and flight data.
“My understanding is the FOIL requests have been responded to,” Bassin said.
He was unaware if the men had dropped their lawsuit.
“This was the very first meeting,” Bassin said. “It’s pretty early to come to any conclusions.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Pat Grattan, R-Kinderhook, has invited the general public to comment at the board’s next airport hearing, scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13.