The Board of Supervisors’ Airport Committee landed in agreement Monday on a final resolution that meets the Federal Aviation Administration’s recommended 1,000-foot safety zone at Columbia County Airport in Ghent.
Supervisor John Porreca Sr., R-Greenport, was joined by committee Chairman Art Bassin, D-Ancram; Supervisor Art Baer, NOP-Hillsdale; and Supervisor Mike Benvenuto, R-Ghent, in favor of Porreca’s modified runway plan by a 4-to-1 vote, with Columbia Economic Development Corporation President David Crawford voting against the measure.
The Porreca plan physically lengthens the 5,350-foot runway by 600 feet to the south, but shortens its northern end by 350 to 400 feet through threshold displacements and declared distances.
Displaced thresholds can be used for takeoffs, but not landings, on a portion of runway other than its beginning or end. Declared distances determine the amount of runway required for specific aircraft to safely land and take off.
Supervisor Mike Benson, R-New Lebanon, missed Monday’s vote after he called the Porreca plan “a conceptual plan, at best,” at the Airport Committee’s March 12 meeting. At that meeting he suggested, after a five-meeting absence, that Columbia County either buy approximately 100 acres of adjacent Meadowgreens Golf Course land, for $1.35 million, from its principal owner Carmen Nero, or control all 150 acres for $1.65 million, with no access easements for the landowner.
Nero initially rejected the county’s $629,00 offer for 16 acres, in addition to 90 acres of aerial navigation easements, but bargained last month for the entire 150-acre Meadowgreens property to be sold for $1.5 million. On Monday, he stood behind the Porreca plan.
“If we just work together, I think we can get this plan through,” Nero said.
“I had a conversation with Mr. Nero,” Bassin said. “It appears Mr. Nero seems to be quite comfortable with the Porreca plan.”
He added they agreed to “an arm’s-length appraisal” so Nero receives “the fair market value for those easements,” from the county. They also discussed an access easement to Route 66.
In a Friday email, Bassin maintained the $3 million Porreca plan “costs less, and is less disruptive to Meadowgreens and the neighbors [north and west] of [Route 9H].” By comparison, “C&S estimates indicate the Nero/Benson plans will cost more than the Porreca Plan.
“Excluding the loss of property taxes, the Nero/Benson plans will cost between $3.45 million and $3.75 million.”
Crawford, though, criticized “property tax assumptions” circulated by email Saturday as “dramatically off base.”
Columbia County cuts $750,000 after 25 years, and $1.5 million after 50, from Ghent’s property tax rolls if it buys Meadowgreens — and taxes remained flat, according to Bassin’s email. Baer, Dave Berman and Columbia County Public Works Commissioner Dave Robinson are credited at the bottom of the email for their assistance with the calculations.
“These numbers, I don’t necessarily agree with that,” Crawford said.
He added Columbia County will be reimbursed at 95 percent, through federal and state aid, for the costs to create a 1,000-foot safety zone at the northern end of the county’s airport’s runway.
“The number for the Porreca Plan is $150,000, and the Benson Plan is $180,000,” Crawford said.
But, for $30,000 more, “You don’t have to deal with Mr. Nero and you’re going to get 150 acres of land.”
Buying up that airport-adjacent land, Crawford said, could potentially yield “huge” economic benefits for the county. He also believed its assessed value would eventually decrease.
“Once they put easements on me, I’m only going to be able to pitch myself as a golf course,” Nero said. “My property taxes are going to to go lower.”
But local attorney Ken Dow challenged Crawford, from the audience, about why Meadowgreens’ business should end “so the county can own one more piece of land?”
“I just can’t fathom it,” Dow said.
In his defense, Crawford said he likes Meadowgreens, but Columbia County’s golf courses struggle to find golfers.
“There’s not enough land that’s adjacent to the Columbia County Airport that’s open to development,” Crawford said.
He added the land could be an advantageous asset in the long-term, but could not identify who might want to build there.
“I’m not sure,” Crawford said. “Industries that want to use aviation.”
Significant portions of the property needed to be rezoned, he said, before anything takes shape.
It seemed silly, to Bassin, why the county needed the property in its “land bank for future use.”
“We’re paying with taxpayer dollars, in one form or another,” Bassin said. “We can’t waste federal money and sit here complaining about Washington. We have to spend money responsibly, and spend the money where it’s needed.”