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North Adams Airport Marks Runway Completion

Tammy Daniels
image description
The city has named the generic 'Airport Road' after Alfred F. 'Budd' Dougherty, longtime Airport Commission chairman, who was surprised with the honor on Wednesday. At right is current Chairman Jeffrey Naughton.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Alfred F. "Budd" Dougherty's long had a vision of where the airport should be — and now he's got a sign to show it.

The road to Harriman & West Airport will be named Budd Dougherty Drive in honor of the longtime member and chairman of the Airport Commission. Dougherty, appointed to the board by former Mayor Richard Lamb, was presented with the sign on Wednesday to mark completion of the long-delayed runway reconstruction project.

The nearly $6 million mostly federally funded project had been in the planning stages since at least 1985; it was mid-90s before serious effort began and only this year that the more than 4,000-foot relocated and re-engineered runway was completed, bringing the airport up to current Federal Aviation Administration safety codes. It wasn't soon enough for Dougherty, however, who retired from the board in 2008 after 30 years.


Brian Smith, left, of Gale & Associates, Mayor Richard Alcombright, city Administrative Officer Jay Green and Naughton spoke about the runway completion with a Beechcraft as a backdrop. The weather was too wet to be on the runway.

"I worked with Budd for 10 years," said Brian Smith of Gale & Associates, the consultant hired nearly 15 years ago for the project, who joked, "he kept saying he wasn't going to retire until the runway was done ... but he finally gave up on us."

Occasionally drowned out by the roar of engines being tested outside the hanger of Turbo Prop East Inc., local officials thanked all those involved and stressed not only the dedication of Dougherty but the importance of what Mayor Richard Alcombright has described as one of the jewels of the city.

"We thought it would be appropriate after so many years of starts and stops, designs and changes and ups and downs, we finally have a beautiful runway out here and to commemorate the fact that this project has come to completion and fruition," said Jeffery Naughton, the commission's current chairman.

It hasn't been easy. The effort to upgrade the 60-year-old airport became bogged down in controversary shortly after Phase 1 began in 2000. The location of the runway and its safety areas sparked contention between the city and Williamstown — whose trees were slated for cutting to accommodate the changes. The result was several years of talks, redesigns and lawsuits.

"For several years in a not-so-friendly environment, you stood for what you thought was right and kept the legs under this project," said Alcombright of Dougherty. "You put yourself in some very unenviable positions to see that this wonderful expansion and improvement poject was completed.

"You knew as many of us do how important this airport is to the city and to the greater Northern Berkshire community."

 
Airport Timeline
• 1940: 1,400-foot Greylock landing strip created
• 1946: City creates Airport Commission
• 1950: City acquires land and strip expanded to 2,200

1951: George West's Mohawk Aviation builds hanger & fueling station
1958-59: More land added, approaches cleared
1985: Obstructions removed, road built
1995: Gale & Associates hired
2000: Environmental permitting begins
2008: Runway safety areas begin construction
2010: New runway completed

Airport Manager Mathew Champney said people overlook the fact that the facility brings in money to the region both from the businesses already located there and the people who fly in for work or pleasure.

"The [Williamstown] Theater Festival, for instance, these people are going to the theater, they're spending money at the theater, they're going to dinner, they're paying money in their fees to the city, and their taking on gas."

Once the safety areas are completed in the spring, Champney said the runway will be able to accommodate larger aircraft, "which I think is going to increase the larger traffic, which I think will benefit this community."

Both Champney and Dougherty said the community doesn't grasp what a resource the airport is — and can be. Champney speculated that it was difficult to break through people's conceptions; Dougherty wished North Adams businesses would use it more.

"When I first became involved here, the airprot was producing a great deal of money for the city of North Adams because we do charge for all the work that's done here and all the planes that come here," said Dougherty. "Because of what's going on economically, it has certainly lowered down but it has served the businesses in North Adams and Williamstown ... I'm certainly disappointed Williams College doesn't use it more."

Michael Sarrouf, an airline pilot who started flying with his father out of North Adams and later worked for longtime pilot and former airport manager Peter Esposito, said Harriman & West was a great place to learn to fly.

"They always said if you learn to fly out of North Adams, you can go anywhere because this isn't the easiest airport to fly out of at times but it's great for training," he said. "It's an outstanding airport for sharpening your skills."

All three agreed some kind of outreach was needed to bring more attention to the upgraded facility. "We need to find a way to market the airport more to people in New York and other places to get them in here," said Sarrouf.

After many thank-yous, including to former Mayor John Barrett III, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, and the many agencies, officials, consultants, community, neighbors and those who use the airport, for their commitment and input, support and tolerance, Dougherty had a small gift of his own.

The former chairman pulled out 50th anniversary hats, mementos that had become tied to tragedy when the airshow celebrating the airport's golden year a decade ago ended when two planes hit, killing their pilots.  It seemed the start of cloudy days for the airport.

"I saved these and have one for each member of the Airport Commission," said Dougherty, rewinding the prop a bit,  "and one for Jay [Green].

Now, with the completion of the runway, the airport is looking toward safer flying and bluer skies.

 

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