Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Warren County's lawyer: No public vote allowed on airport runway project

QUEENSBURY -- The controversial extension of the main runway at Warren County Airport could not legally be put up for a public vote, according to Warren County Attorney Martin Auffredou.

Several speakers at a public meeting Monday night that focused on the airport asked county supervisors to put the $8 million project up for a vote.

Auffredou said he researched the issue, and concluded Wednesday that state laws would not allow for a public referendum on an airport project.

“In New York state, a referendum is only permissible when authorized by statute,” he said. “In this instance, an airport expansion project is a Board of Supervisors decision and I can find no indication it is subject to or subject of a referendum.”

The extension project, which would add 1,000 feet to the 5,000-foot north-south runway, has been questioned in recent months by newly elected supervisors who have debated whether it is warranted. Supervisors have also questioned spending to operate the airport and recent purchases of land around it to improve the flight approach.

Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty said he was not sure the Board of Supervisors would have authorized a public vote if one was allowed. He said allowing a public referendum on county projects is a “slippery slope.”

“The supervisors are elected by the people to represent them,” he said. “If you start doing that (having referendums), then there will be requests for everything to be on the ballot.”

The meeting ended Monday night when Crandall Public Library staff directed attendees to leave the building by 9 p.m., to the chagrin of many in attendance.

The public commentary portion of the meeting was over, and Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Mark Westcott was preparing to give the audience a presentation on the project put together by Upstate New York Taxpayer Advocates, a group he co-founded.

The presentation was cut short, but a second public meeting is being organized by Westcott and Queensbury at-Large Supervisor William Mason. Mason said a date had not been chosen as of Wednesday morning, but it will likely be held in the next two weeks or so at the North Queensbury fire station.

Glens Falls 1st Ward Supervisor Dan Girard, chairman of the county board’s Facilities Committee, which hosted the meeting, said any followup meeting will not be an official Facilities Committee. The Board of Supervisors believes it fulfilled the request by UNYTA for a night meeting on the issue with Monday night’s gathering, he said.

The runway extension was first approved in 2003, and was the subject of two votes earlier this year in which it passed 18-2 on the 20-member Board of Supervisors. Girard said he believes it will have a positive economic impact on the region.

“The consensus on the board has been strong throughout this debate,” he said.

UNYTA’s presentation can be found online at Click on “airport position paper.”


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