Airport Committee Mulls Longer Runway
December 12, 2013
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  • The Board of Supervisors’ Airport Committee discussed yet another eminent domain alternative Wednesday after Richmor Aviation’s President Mahlon Richards suggested the county try paving their airport’s runway another 450 feet south to create the Federal Aviation Administration’s recommended 1,000-foot safety zone.

    “It gives you the sufficient takeoffs and landings that you need and you still have the safety zone,” Richards said.

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    The 450-foot extension into Runway End 3’s safety zone still allows “for 1,000 feet of safety zone on each end of the runway,” he said, and does not encroach onto the neighboring Meadowgreens Golf Course.

    “The FAA would fund 95 percent of it,” Supervisor John Porreca, R-Greenport, added.

    Carmen Nero, Meadowgreens’ principal owner, rejected Columbia County’s $629,000 offer to buy 16 acres of his Ghent property, and the 90 acres of conservation easements needed for the airport’s safety zone.

    But County Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons maintained the Federal Aviation Administration’s recommendation was “not a set and closed standard,” for expanding the safety zone by 2015. However, he did indicate the matter, left unresolved, could potentially affect the county’s insurance coverage

    “We have a contract between us and Richmor,” he said. “I can tell you, hypothetically, if we hamper this business, he could make a claim.”

    Supervisors had previously entertained the possibility that the airport’s 5,350-foot runway could be shortened, to 4,500 feet, and still be in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. But Richards feared that action could steer corporate jets, and their fees, from Columbia County.

    “It depends on the company,” Richards said. “If a company has a standard policy they won’t use an airport with less than 5,000 feet, they might just go somewhere else, and that’s it.”

    Figures Richards formally disclosed at Wednesday’s meeting reported an average of 130 airplanes landing annually at Columbia County Airport, over a six-year period, beginning in 2008. Last year, 146 landings were recorded.

    “We’ve never really tried to keep track of it previously,” Richards said.

    But “the total landing operations we believe are somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 a year,” he added.

    Claverack farmer Cecile Harrison, though, challenged Richards’ math and claimed “those numbers seem outrageously high to me.”

    “I spend all day outside and I maybe see five planes a week,” Harrison said.

    She also alleged the data recorder, Phil Stanwick, “was not particularly unbiased.”

    “Perhaps an independent study of the use of the airport is warranted,” Harrison said.

    Nearly 50 audience members also turned their attention and their raised voices toward Supervisor Mike Benson, R-New Lebanon, because, in a Dec. 5 email, he called for the committee to enter into an executive session to finalize their recommendation.

    “I’m not stopping the process,” Benson said. “I’m suggesting we get to the end of what we’re here to discuss.”

    Meanwhile, Ghent resident Patti Matheney criticized Benson for emails he allegedly sent to her employer.

    Matheney filed an affidavit supporting Ghent residents Kevin Delahanty and Michael Schrom in their lawsuit against the county in state Supreme Court for their neglected records requests, under the Freedom of Information Law.

    “You attacked me personally,” Matheney said.

    Committee Chairman Art Bassin, D-Ancram, later urged more months of research be done.

    “We don’t know enough as a committee to make suggestions which judgment is right,” Bassin said.