Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saratoga County Airport (5B2) neighbors anxious about possible runway extension

MILTON >> When Joe and Patricia Wagner built their 474 Rowland St. home, Saratoga County Airport was mostly for small Piper Cubs and weekend traffic.

Almost 40 years, two runway extensions and a massive clear-cut tree removal project later, the town couple sees Learjets fly overhead all the time, especially during the summer racing season.

The increased traffic and noise aren’t major problems, they said. But now a draft airport master plan update recommends the possibility of another 301-foot or 701-foot runway extension.

“This house will be gone probably,” Joe Wagner said. “Do I think it’s going to happen? Sure. It might not be right away with all the furor. But if the money people want it, it’s going to happen. I’ve seen it too many times.”

More than 225 people turned out for a recent public hearing on the issue, and a another large crowd is expected at a county supervisors Building and Grounds Committee meeting at 3 p.m. on June 9. The committee deals with airport issues.

The Wagners recently put a $20,000 addition on their home and did extensive interior remodeling.

“It’s very upsetting,” Patricia Wagner said.

The county is paying the firm Johnson-McFarland Inc. $375,000 for a 10-year airport master plan update that’s scheduled for completion in October. A draft of the report says the existing 4,699-foot runway isn’t long enough to meet future needs.

Failure to lengthen the runway “could result in lost revenue as aircraft would continue to experience weight restrictions and could not operate at the airport during poor weather conditions,” the draft says. “These aircraft could be forced to carry less passengers and/or fuel, or utilize other airports in the region.”

Much of the airport’s business occurs during the six-week Saratoga Race Course season.

The airport is managed by North American Flight Services, which leases the facility from Saratoga County. North American co-owner Frank Zilka has said the proposed runway extension is strictly a safety issue, not one designed to increase traffic or bring in larger planes.

“Bull,” Joe Wagner said. “It’s bull because the first extension was supposed to be for safety. Then all the tree clearing was supposed to be safety. Why do they need more if it’s the same planes coming in?”

Previously, the property between the Wagners’ backyard and the runway was heavily wooded.

“It was so private,” Patricia Wagner said. “You couldn’t even see the runway.”

However, the land is part of a runway protection zone that was cleared of trees several years ago for aircraft safety. A berm that was supposed to be constructed was never built, and dozens of small cedars planted in place of hardwoods don’t provide the buffering they’re supposed to, Joe Wagner said.

“It’s laughable,” he said. “The first group died. They had to replant them. There’s no protection from the wind now. It’s damaging the siding on my house.”

The full county Board of Supervisors’ approval is required before a runway extension may occur. A 701-foot extension would have the most impact, requiring the acquisition of nearly two dozen parcels and the relocation of Rowland Street. That project would cost an estimated $6 million.

The non-extension option would still cost $560,000 because of land and property easement acquisitions.

A 301-foot extension would cost nearly $2 million.

“They just keep wanting more and more,” Patricia Wagner said. 

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