Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lawmakers Seek Answers on Essex Skypark's (W48) Future. Baltimore, Maryland.

A bipartisan group of state legislators that represent the Essex-Middle River community are concerned about the county's push to close the 70-year-old airport.

Tom Katzenberger is among the pilots at the Essex Skypark who are concerned about the future of the 70-year-old airport.
Credit Courtesy of Tom Katzenberger

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is demanding answers from Baltimore County officials about its decision to force the Essex Skypark to move.

District 7 Dels. Pat McDonough and Rick Impallaria have filed legislation that would prohibit Baltimore County from taking control of the skypark and would guarantee the facility would continue to operate.

McDonough, a Middle River Republican, said the legislation was intended to get the attention of Baltimore County, as many residents have expressed concern over losing the 70-year-old Essex Skypark.

“Things are moving way too fast with this issue over something as historic as the Essex Skypark,” McDonough said. “Sometimes the only way to get people to listen in cases like this is by filing legislation.”
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Vince Gardina, director of the county’s department of environmental protection and sustainability, said the county wants to clear the 40 acres of the skypark in order to meet federal pollutant mandates for the area, plant trees, protect birds, improve water quality along Back River, replace forests destroyed by other development in the county and help to mitigate other pollution issues along the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
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Baltimore County has owned the property since 2000 when it purchased 500 acres from the Shapiro family for $2.1 million through the Maryland Environmental Trust, Gardina said. The Essex Skypark Association has signed a series of five-year leases with the county since then.

But when the association failed to renew its lease last year on time, Gardina said, that gave the county the opportunity to move forward with its plans for the skypark land. The county’s current plan is to allow the skypark association five years to find a place to relocate before taking over the property.

That plan is unacceptable to District 6 Del. Michael Weir Jr. The Essex Democrat said calls to close the skypark are “ridiculous” and that the county's move goes against the wishes of an easement signed between the Shapiro family and the county, which calls for the airport to remain on the site unless there is no activity there for a year.

Weir, along with fellow District 6 representatives Sen. Norman Stone and Dels. John Olszewski Jr. and Joseph “Sonny” Minnick, wrote to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz seeking additional information on the county’s stance on this issue.

“Because the Essex Skypark is an important part of local aviation history and a valuable commercial, recreational and safety asset, we urge you to halt the closure of the airport,” the letter read. “We acknowledge the need for a forest mitigation bank and pledge to work with you to find other alternatives other than the skypark site.”

Weir said he is also working on legislation, which would designate the Essex Skypark a state historical site. He also anticipates there eventually being a hearing in Annapolis on the future of the skypark where all solutions to the issue could be discussed.

“The Essex Skypark is a vital part of the history of eastern Baltimore County,” Weir said. “It’s also utilized by the fire department, police department and National Guard for training purposes in case it’s needed during an emergency or natural disaster. There has to be other answers to address forest mitigation needs.”

Tom Katzenberger, a Perry Hall pilot and member of the Essex Skypark Association, has been overwhelmed by the show of support from state lawmakers and the community, which includes people signing an online petition to save it. He said he hopes Baltimore County will now be more willing to work with the community in order to save the airport.

“This has been amazing to see how many people care about the future of the Essex Skypark,” Katzenberger said. “It’s a valuable resource not just for those in Essex, but for everyone in Baltimore County.

Source:  http://essex.patch.com

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