Saturday, October 12, 2013

Columbia County (1B1), Hudson, New York: State Assemblywoman Barrett calls for airport plan delay

State Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, responded Thursday to the county Board of Supervisors’ rejection of a resolution temporarily grounding the Columbia County Airport safety zone’s expansion, through eminent domain, by petitioning the board to halt further action until constituents have their concerns addressed.

In her letter to board Chairman Patrick Grattan, R-Kinderhook, Barrett suggests that he, the board’s membership, Columbia County Economic Development Commissioner Ken Flood and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli re-evaluate the county’s approach to acquiring 16 acres of adjacent Meadowgreens Golf Course property, with an additional 90 acres of conservation easements.

Carmen Nero, the Ghent facility’s principal owner, has refused the county’s $629,000 offer for his land so that Columbia County Airport’s safety zone may be in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

“While I appreciate your recent effort to inform the public about this project, it is clear that many questions remain unanswered,” Barrett told Grattan, before requesting the project be suspended.

“I have heard from a number of constituents who have been seeking answers for some time regarding the need and the economics of this project.”

Saying Barrett must be misinformed, Grattan maintained “the county isn’t moving ahead with any eminent domain proceedings.”

“The airport isn’t being expanded, the FAA has requested it,” he added.

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, approximately 60 attendees brought their questions and criticisms to an informational meeting that challenged the motivations, and methodologies, of the county’s airport initiative.

Local attorney Ken Dow accompanied client Michael Schrom, one of two Ghent residents he represents. On Oct. 4, Dow filed a suit on behalf of Schrom and Kevin Delahanty in state Supreme Court against Columbia County. The suit alleges Columbia County did not respond quickly enough to the men’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests about the county’s communications with the Federal Aviation Administration, agreements with Richmor Aviation, C&S Engineers and flight data,

Supervisor Art Bassin, D-Ancram, introduced the Wednesday meeting’s resolution, but could not muster the two-thirds majority for it to be brought to the floor.

So far, Bassin has raised doubts about the county’s alleged non-compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, FOIL delays and the estimated $8 million to $13 million costs for airport upgrades, as outlined in the county’s 10-year-old master plan.

The board voted party-line 1,146 for the measure, 1,857 against, with 243 abstaining and 595 absent.

Supervisors Richard Keaveney, R-Canaan; Jesse DeGroodt, NOP-Chatham; Thomas Garrick, R-Gallatin; Ronald Knott, R-Stuyvesant; John Porreca Sr., R-Greenport; Jeffrey Braley, R-Austerlitz; Kevin McDonald, R-Livingston; and Michael Benson, R-New Lebanon, and Grattan defeated Bassin’s resolution.

Supervisors Robin Andrews, D-Claverack; Raymond Staats, D-Clermont; Art Baer, NOP-Hillsdale; Sarah Sterling, D-Hudson1; Edward Cross, D-Hudson2; Ellen Thurston, D-Hudson3; Bill Hughes, D-Hudson4; Rick Scalera, Hudson-D5 voted with Bassin to halt eminent domain proceedings.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Betty Young, R-Taghkanic, abstained and Supervisor Matt Murell, R-Stockport, recused himself.

Both Supervisors Roy Brown, R-Germantown, and Jeff Nayer, R-Copake, were absent.

Under Bassin’s resolution, “[a]ll resolutions previously approved by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors authorizing negotiated purchase of land from Carmen Nero and partners, or the use of eminent domain,” would be withdrawn. Efforts to retain legal counsel for future eminent domain proceedings “shall cease immediately,” the resolution continued.

It also called upon the county’s Freedom of Information Law Officer to alert the Board of Supervisors “when all FOIL requests have been responded to,” and to share all FOIL requests, and the county’s responses, as they relate to the airport.

In July, the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee voted to request proposals for legal advice, a reversal of the County Government and Public Works committees decisions that month to hire attorney Richard Hite, of Syracuse, to negotiate eminent domain proceedings at Meadowgreens Golf Course for up to $25,000. Supervisors had reduced a $50,000 fee, for the then-anonymous law firm, floated to them by Flood at C&S Companies’ recommendation.

In 2003, C&S engineers developed a Columbia County master plan that called for acquiring airport property from Meadowgreens Golf Course by eminent domain and to clear six acres of trees. The Syracuse-based consultants have so far received about $170,000 to advise county officials, as of last year.

Public comment was invited by Grattan at another one of the board’s informational airport meetings, scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13.


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