NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Deer, crow and bald eagles are a few of the wildlife incursions that are being tracked as part of a yearlong hazardous wildlife assessment at Harriman & West Airport.
Randy Christensen, an environmental scientist with engineering firm, Stantec, told the Airport Commission last week that airports are asked to undergo said assessment after certain triggers such as a wildlife strike, observations of wildlife on the runway, or knowledge of wildlife attractants in the area.
North Adams was specifically flagged for deer on the runway. He said a dead deer was found on the ramp last year.
Christensen said spends eight hours at the airport and surrounding areas twice a month to observe but also sets up game cameras.
"We try to see what the wildlife population are doing and we try to point these cameras right at the runway or the hangars," he said. "Just last week I got a picture of a bobcat behind one of the hangars."
He said even though nocturnal wildlife is not as big of a concern at visual runways like the North Adams airport, the night time observations are still valuable information that could lead to funding toward fencing and other preventive measures.
The Airport Commission has been looking a perimeter fencing project for some time but the commissioners are wondering if it's a priority compared to other maintenance needs.
"We are seeing cracks in our runway and a lot of resources went into the infrastructure of this airport," Chairman Jeff Naughton said. "In my opinion it is critical that we maintain that."
The airport receives about $150,000 annually in nonprimary entitlement funds that can be put toward a variety of projects or rolled into a phased project. The commission was surprised it would have to tap these funds for the project and anticipate it tyinging up a lot of these funds over the next three years.
Stantec engineer Peter Enzien said typically the state will patch runway cracks every two years and thought it was last done in North Adams in 2017. He said he would find out for sure and noted there may be other funding sources.
He said the perimeter fence has been on the state Aeronautics Division's Capital Investment Plan list for sometime but ultimately the commissioners are the ones who decide how to spend their money. He said it would be up to them if they want to divert funds toward crack sealing.
However, Enzien said there may be more funding available that will speed the project along and free up money.
He said he approached the state Department of Transportation about airport safety and maintenance funds, which would be additional to nonprimary entitlement funds. He said officials did seem agreeable to some sort of allocation to get the fence project done in a single fiscal year.
Christensen added that the hazardous wildlife assessment could help push this allocation along but noted he is only a few months into the work that will take a year.
"I am out there at weird hours in the pickup truck and we have tried to let everybody know that we are out there," he said. "So if they see some strange stuff out there like spotlighting it is just us. We know airport operations. We have done this at dozens of airports."
Christensen said the complete assessment will also be a resource for pilots and will inform "a notice to airmen," or NOTAM alerts. He said a fence will not keep out birds but that NOTAMs can be released to inform pilots of certain bird activity at certain times.
He said owls tend to be an issue at airports. The large birds like open space and Christensen said he has observed 20 to 30 owls "diving on runways." He said pilots need to know when there are "15-pound birds" flying right over the runway.
In North Adams, crows seem to be the issue.
"That is something that is happening right now. We have had 500 crows in a straight line over the airport right at a certain time every morning," he said. "They go from the center of town to Williamstown. So these are things we can offer to make pilots safer."
Airport users asked if their input was helpful and Christensen said he would like to hear about animal sightings on the runway or at the airport in general. Also it is important to record near misses.
Airport users said there has been bald eagle activity at the airport and Christensen said he witnessed the same thing and noted bald eagles regularly fly about 1,000 feet above the runway.
Christensen expects to have his report ready in February or March of 2021.
As for the actual fence project, it is just wrapping up in design and he has begun the extensive permitting process. He said abutters will soon receive letters about the project.