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Airport Manager Mark Germanowski updates residents on the progress of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion. Neighbors offered up a host of complaints about the ongoing work.

Pittsfield Residents Frustrated With Airport Project

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
11:09PM / Thursday, July 26, 2012
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City Councilor Jonathan Lothrup said the city has put aside extra funds to plant more vegetation to spruce up Barker Road.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — For more than a decade Susan Halpin says her Barker Street home was in good condition.

Then the massive airport renovation started and water came rushing onto her land. Now she has cracks in her foundation.

"I'm never going to get back the money I put into that house," Halpin said on Thursday night at an informational meeting about the project at Crosby Elementary School. "I never had a problem with water. Now I have a problem with water."

She said her house is sinking into the nearby swamp and places blame on the clear cutting of trees on the airport land as part of the $23.5 million project. But she isn't the only who has complaints.

"This has been brutal," Barker Road resident Marriann Dennis said, adding that she can't even open her windows because dust is flying through the air and into her home.

Dozens of residents had complaints that ranged from the clayish dust settling on the road, the appearance of the fence line and the times and days the contractors are working.

"They're not considerate at all with what time they start," said resident Denise Crane, who said she is constantly woken at 6:15 a.m. to the sounds of gravel processing. "It's the most annoying noise and it's happening all day."

Airport Manager Mark Germanowski responded to each of the complaints after giving a recap of the progress and what is to come. While he recognized some of the problems, others he had no explanation for. He passed out complaint sheets that he said he will give to the contractor — Rifenburg Construction — in hopes of getting to the bottom of the problems.

"It's a big construction project and there are going to be impacts," Germanowski said.

For the dust, which many described as "slimy" and sticking to vehicles, Germanowski said they are constantly watering down the haul roads — currently Barker Road — to alleviate the problem. However, too much water and it turns to mud and too little water kicks the dust into the air.

"It has been difficult," Germanowski said. "We can't replicate mother nature."

As for the water runoff, which many residents complained about, it could be the abnormally high amount of rain the county received last year, he said, or it could be something else. But the airport is still in compliance with all of its permits, which include ensuring water stays on the site, and has passed every inspection, he said.

The cause may be unknown to airport officials but City Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo wants to find out.

She called on airport officials to gather the names and addresses of everyone who has had issues similar to Halpin and send a structural engineer to their homes to investigate. If it turns out it is from the project, the city should compensate the residents for the repairs, she said.

Mazzeo wasn't the only councilor willing to chip in city funds to alleviate abuttors' frustrations. Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont called on airport officials to renegotiate with Rifenburg to make sure work is not happening on holidays, like it did on the Fourth of July.

"We should tell them that even if it costs us more money, they're not going to work these days," Clairmont said.
 
Germanowski said there are still a number of holidays before the completion date of Dec. 1. He said the construction schedule will depend on progress and weather but that he will talk to the contractors about not working holidays.


Susan Halpin said water runoff from the airport has caused her home's foundation to crack.
Germanowski said they worked the Fourth of July because the weather was good and that the contractor is trying to get as far as he can before the workers receive pay raises. Independence Day had been negotiated between the contractor and the employees ahead of time.

Other complaints included the lack of police presence on roads that see more than 250 construction vehicle trips a day, environmental concerns with the dust going into the rivers and the general appearance.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrup called the appearance of the fence line on Barker Road "unacceptable." The city has put aside extra funds to plant new vegetation, he said.

Another neighbor said he wanted more communication to let residents know when things are happening — such as Germanowski's announcement that a heavy week of paving vehicles traveling to the site will begin on Aug. 20.

For two weeks in September, asphalt from the Barker Road side of the airport will be removed and hauled to the other side. The blasting for excavations have been completed but the relocation of South Mountain Road will require more blasting in August, Germanowski said.

The massive safety improvement project is being paid for by $13.5 million in state Department of Transportation funds, $6 million in Federal Aviation Administration funds and $3 million from the city. The FAA also contributed $4 million previously for land acquisition.

Right now, Germanowski said there could be some savings, which will go to the city.

"We've progressed quickly. We're ahead of schedule and on budget," Germanowski said. "The other organizations are all in on their funds so any savings will go to the city."

Tags: airport,   airport project,   construction,   construction complaints,   

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