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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

DEP Seeks More From Harriman-West Airport Project Authorities

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Williamstown - Officials of Gale Associates, an engineering firm overseeing a multi-million dollar Harriman-West Airport rehabilitation, will have to deliver additional information and details to officials of the state Department of Environmental Protection before the state agency determines whether to grant the North Adams Airport Commission a wetlands variance.

The company is headquartered in Weymouth, Mass. and has offices in New Hampshire, Maryland, California, Florida and Virginia. A New Hampshire office is overseeing the airport work.

If granted, a waiver would exempt runway safety zone construction, which is one facet of a larger project, from complying with the Wetlands Protection Act and associated wetland regulations.

Extensive Variance Request Goes Beyond Local Control

DEP officials became involved after town Conservation Commission members determined that the airport commission's requested variance exceeded the municipal commission authority. The airport commission and the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission are seeking extensive wetlands alterations that will impact town-owned and privately owned, town-based sites, said town Conservation Commission Chairman Henry "Hank" Art. Art is a Williams College biology professor.

The extensive nature of the variance "kicked the whole process over to the DEP," Art said during a recent telephone interview.

The variance being sought would permit construction of a 100-foot western edge runway safety zone, said Airport Commission Chairman Alfred "Bud" Dougherty during a Sept. 19 morning interview. The work involves property situated within Williamstown borders.

Another 100-foot safety zone affects the eastern runway edge, he said. The eastern runway edge is located in North Adams.

An original plan called for safety zones of 200 feet but that much area would have meant removing five occupied homes at the runway's eastern edge, Dougherty said.

The complete project has an estimated price tag of $5 million, with 90 percent of the funding coming from the Federal Aviation Administration. The remaining costs will be shouldered by the state and the city, with the city contributing the least to the project under current financial breakdown, Dougherty said.

A letter dated Aug.21 and addressed to Erik W. Strand, a Gale Associates project engineer, states "The Department [MassDEP] is currently reviewing your request for a wetlands variance on behalf of the City of North Adams Airport Commission. Based on our review to date, we are requesting that you submit the following information to supplement your application. Please note that there may be additional questions or requests for further information prior to completion of our review."

Dougherty said that the DEP request is not unusual and that he was not surprised that the agency is seeking additional information.

While Gale Associates remains the lead firm on the project, the environmental work is being done by Bay State Environmental Consultants, a firm hired by Gale Associates, Dougherty said. Bay State is the entity that will prepare the response to the DEP request, Dougherty said.

DEP questions and concerns are expected to be answered, Dougherty said.

"We have to get this piece finished before we can restore the runway," Dougherty said, referring to the variance request.

DEP Questions And Concerns

DEP officials are asking that the engineers consider specific alternative culvert designs for culvert replacements impacting proposed Paull Brook and a nearby stream. Officials asked that a written engineer evaluation of the proposed alternatives be submitted. Both the Paull and the unnamed waterway are expected to be impacted by the airport project.

The DEP is also asking that the engineers "provide documentation of any [Federal Aviation Administration] correspondence where a waiver of runway requirements was requested."

DEP officials cited concerns surrounding stormwater:"Compliance with the Stormwater Management Policy provisions is not adequately documented. Detailed comments are provided in Attachment A to this letter. Department staff is available to meet with you if requested to discuss the requirements of compliance with the Stormwater Management Policy."

Attachment A indicates questions and concerns about matters including "sheet flow," "shallow concentrated flow," "outlet controls in the extended detention basins," "emergency spillways" - the attachment indicates none are evident in the proposed plan-and other issues.

In all, the DEP questioned whether 9 state stormwater standards are met by the project's proposed wetlands alterations.

DEP officials held a public comment period about the proposed wetlands variance, which asked for written comments. The comment period ended on Aug. 15. Art submitted comments about the proposed variance as did former Conservation Commission member and current Planning Board member Christopher Winters and several private citizens.

A Sum Greater Than Its' Parts, Said Art

Art's concerns include what he described as a "segmented" approach by the engineers, meaning that rather than present the project as a whole, bits are presented as separate pieces of the project's puzzle.

"The Williamstown Conservation Commission has asked for a complete hydrological analysis of the entire project, bringing together the sum of all the parts but to date has not received such a document from the airport commissioners or their engineers," Art wrote. "I hope that the State DEP will be vigilant in examining the whole of this project which conceivably could have affects greater than the sum of its components."

Art also cited concerns about recent flooding at the Spruces mobile home park. The park has endured two evacuations within the past 10 months after heavy rains.

"Many of these residents are elderly or lack easy mobility and there needs to be appropriate planning to ensure that the airport project does not contribute to further flood hazards of this area," Art wrote.

Eminent Domain Taking Of Town-Owned Property?

Other concerns raised during the public comment period include a possible eminent domain land taking that would mean the City of North Adams Airport Commission acquiring Town of Williamstown-owned land recently purchased by the town with Community Preservation Act funds.

Should that acquisition be allowed, the move could set a precedent, with one municipality being permitted to forcibly take the property of another municipality, and could also call into question the integrity of Community Preservation Act land purchases.

The town purchased the property as a CPA acquisition from Luce Road resident Anthony Folino. Luce Road was the site of a contentious 2003-04 airport project initiated tree-cutting.

The DEP communication to Strand states: "Please respond to the Conservation Commission's comment that there is a parcel to be taken for the project in Williamstown that was purchased using Community Preservation Act funds. This may have Article 97 implications regarding change in use. Also, please explain why the 100' shift of the runway to the west will not result in an additional 100' of tree-clearing."

The DEP review of the variance request appears significant, Winters said during a recent telephone interview.

"I think it is an indication that the DEP is looking at this seriously and is also considering [variance] implications," he said.

More To Come

The DEP action and the request for a wetlands variance is not related to a second-phase tree-cutting that involves plans to remove hundreds of trees along an area that includes but is not limited to Stony Ledge Drive and Holly Lane.

The requested variance is focused solely on airport runway work.

Residents affected by planned Phase II tree cutting are opposed to the scope of the work.

The Phase I and Phase II tree-cutting involves clearing airplane descent and take-off paths that are navigated as planes approach or leave the airport from the west, and restoring several hundred feet of runway that was "displaced" [shifted from west to east] during the 1980s. Dougherty has maintained that it was always the airport commission intention to restore the runway to its' original length and he noted during today's interview that instead of restoring a full 1,100 feet of displaced runway, the commission restored only 600 feet as part of the Phase I tree-cutting compromise.

The entire project has created a bitter divide between airport commissioners, Williamstown property owners, and others affiliated with the project. In 2003, after weeks of animosity that included a September stand-off between Luce Road residents and those sent to cut their trees, a lawsuit filed by the City of North Adams and finally, a compromise that led to the lawsuit being dropped, a reduced number of trees were cut along Luce Road as part of the project.

The DEP response to the wetlands variance request and attached written comments are public record documents and those interested in reviewing the documents may arrange to do so by contacting the Williamstown Department of Inspection Services at 413-458-9344.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
Your Comments
Post Comment
Thank you for covering this important development.

The North Adams Transcript did a great job of NOT covering it.

From my recent letter to the Transcript's Editor:

"

Are there to be NO editorial standards at the Transcript? As if constant grammatical mistakes and spelling errors weren't punishment enough, now we appear to be sliding willy-nilly into the territory of Straw Men and Buried Ledes.

Real news writers know that lede-burying will get you flunked out of a beginner's class - yet Saturday's frontpage article had a particularly egregious example of it, trivializingly entitled "Airport rumors fly; Barrett, Fohlin shoot them down".

Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin had it right when he was quoted as saying "this is a non-event". In fact, the supposed "consistent rumors" sic addressed by the non-news article consitute a straw man, set up by the editorial staff itself in "Don't fly off the handle" of the same date - to be knocked down on the front page with the lede buried in paragraph three.

The real event was the State DEP letter to Williamstown and North Adams officials requesting significant additional information from the North Adams airport commission. Standards not met, and so on. The real issue is water in Williamstown, not whiners in Williamstown.

I wonder if anybody really was heard whining - or if the whole thing was made up out of whole cloth in an effort to distract from the actual issue being discussed in Williamstown. Water.

Not eminent domain and 727's.

Water.

I wonder if it was a coordinated effort to avoid airing the DEP's letter, as a proper newspaper should do. Certainly Susan Bush did a professional job of covering it in iBerkshires.com. Bill Densmore treated it seriously in GreylockNews.com

Was the editorial staff trying overhard to appear cute and humorous, using cloying NY Post-style flight bytes? Because people whose homes are threatened by stormwater runoff probably don't think any of this is terribly funny.

Perhaps the Transcript is not interested in printing quality news - but in being a stenographer for certain agendas, a seller of consumer advertising, a skin for three inches of weekend paper junk, a snarky giggle fest.

In future, I will turn to the alternative medias first for quality news reporting on matters of importance - if I wanted gossip, I'd get the Post."
from: Jamie Bairstowon: 09-24 00:00:00-2006


 
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