Friday, February 3, 2012

Pennsylvania: Cargo airport in East Union Township encounters more issues

By Mark Gilger, Jr., Republican Herald
Published: February 3, 2012

East Union Township police and fire officials pointed out safety issues with the proposed cargo airport in the township and a cable company representative expressed concern of potential satellite disruption during Thursday's hearing with the Schuylkill County Zoning Hearing Board for a special exception request.

The property on which Gladstone Partners LP, Pittsburgh, plans to build the proposed airport falls in East Union and Kline townships, Schuylkill County, and also is within 1.6 miles of a Service Electric Cablevision station in Hazle Township, Luzerne County.

Tim Trently, the general manager of the SECV site, said he sent emails to representatives at Gladstone requesting them to share their plans to see if there will be any interference with the 10 satellites on the site. He said the first email was sent in February 2007 when SECV first learned of the intentions to build the airport, and received a response telling him that they were unable to disclose any information since they were in the preliminary planning stages.

Trently then said he sent a second letter in May 2007 "well beyond the preliminary stages" and never had his concerns addressed by the company.

"If we could be assured that our services wouldn't be interrupted, why would we not want to support a new business coming into our area?" Trently said.

Trently said approximately $8 million was invested in that particular site, and it would be "very challenging" to find a new location since the whole system operates from that station.

According to Trently, 59 people are employed by SECV.

Tony Harris, East Union Township chief of police, said the airport being in two counties would create problems with the communication services.

"There is a tremendous delay in dispatch when calls need to be transferred," Harris said.

Harris said it is possible for dispatch to be delayed eight to 10 minutes if a call is sent to the wrong county communications center and needs to be transferred.

Also, Harris is the only full-time police officer in East Union Township. Hazle and Kline townships do not have police forces, Harris said.

"There was no way we could do, none whatsoever," Harris said.

Harris said that even if the airport has its own security, police officers have the authority to arrest while security personnel can only detain.

Harris also pointed out that the massive influx of people and traffic would also bring in a high volume of crime to the area with a limited police force.

Attorney Frederick J. Fanelli, representing Gladstone during the hearings, suggested Harris has yet to consider the benefits of the airport, like tax incentives to the municipalities which could then hire more officers.

"I haven't seen any benefits," Harris said.

Harris said the airport needs a 24-hour police force, and they would need approximately 50 to 60 officers to accommodate that.

Robert Gabardi, the township fire marshal, said he has not had any contact with representatives from Gladstone concerning emergency planning. His concerns included the lack of plans concerning water sources and building descriptions, and the townships being limited of manpower and equipment for a potential emergency at the proposed airport.

"There is no way we have enough equipment in the surrounding area if anything were to happen," Gabardi said. "We need paid people sitting around at the house ready to go. The airplanes may be bigger than some of the villages."

Gabardi said the fire company relies solely on volunteers and said the response can sometimes be only three or four people.

"I have to be looking at the worst-case scenario and have to plan for it," Gabardi said. "If a plane goes down, it could obliterate a whole town."

Gabardi said an emergency plan should have been in place before being approved by the board.

Also representing East Union Township was Kyle Mummey, emergency management coordinator. He expressed similar concerns with 911 communications. Fanelli asked Mummey if it was possible that a large-scale project like the airport could help push for a solution to that problem once and for all.

"It could perhaps potentiate a change but I have been working for a long time for that change and it has yet to happen," Mummey said. "The project might also create more problems. I think that problem should be fixed before it was brought to a board."

Hearings will resume at 7 p.m. March 1 with expert testimonies from an engineer and an airport planner.

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