PITTSFIELD -- The main runway at Pittsfield Municipal Airport will be extended into an environmentally sensitive wetland area and force the rerouting of South Mountain Road.
Details of the extensive runway expansion project were discussed at City Hall last night in front of a crowd of about 30 residents.
The project, first proposed in 1998 and currently budgeted at $24 million, will help the airport comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations requiring general aviation facilities to have 1,000 feet of "safe zones" at the ends of their runways.
Runway 08/26, Pittsfield's main strip, has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end.
The Airport Commission, airport manager Mark Germanowski and Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, whose ward is home to the airport, hosted the informational meeting.
Randall P. Christiansen, an engineer consultant from Stantec, the design firm hired by the commission, said that while 3.87 acres of vegetative wetlands will be eliminated during construction, 8.2 acres of wetlands will be replaced to make up for the loss.
Of the 172 acres of forested and shrub-filled land that has been deemed "obstruction" areas, 97.74 acres will either be cut down or trimmed.
"This project contains an extensive amount of construction," Christiansen said. "The airport has severely deficient runway approach areas."
At least 650 feet of concrete on the runway 08 end (near the intersection of Barker and Tamarack roads) will be torn up and seeded with grass. On the runway 26 end, which extends into the Wild Acres conservation area, a total of 1,600 feet of concrete and 1,000 feet of grass will be added, forcing South Mountain Road to be diverted to the north.
At least 400 truckloads of fill will be used to bring the wetlands area up to runway grade. A 270-foot-long wooden boardwalk will be constructed to the north of the airport in a beaver dam called Wampenum Brook to house a series of runway approach lights.
The Wild Acres facilities and access road will be relocated to the east.
Some residents asked if the expansion would increase air traffic and noise pollution.
Germanowski said projections show jet takeoffs and landings increasing from roughly 4,000 per year currently to about 6,000 by 2020.
"And from a noise standpoint," Christiansen said, "we're not extending the noise pollution into the existing homes."
Residents at the meeting also expressed concern that the project involves public funds, yet the airport -- built in 1974 -- services only a small portion of the public, mainly the wealthy or corporations.
Theresa Clary, of Barker Road, asked if the plan would benefit the city with a return on the investment.
Lothrop said there was really no way of determining that at this point. He did say if the airport fails to comply with FAA regulations, the city -- the owner of the facility -- will lose public funds indefinitely. The airport would then only be able to service small, single-engine planes.
"This plan embodies a compromise," that has taken 10 years to achieve, he said. "We assume there is a need for the airport, between businesses and tourism."
Between the funding from the FAA and the state, Lothrop said the city will have to pay for "2 to 5 percent" of the total costs of the expansion. The runway expansion is part of a larger $40 million project, which will include a renovation of the airport terminal.
Some residents were concerned about the use of herbicides in the project to limit new growth in the cut areas. Christiansen said the chemicals are the same as those sold at hardware stores. They are "target specific," sprayed with a fog in localized areas and limit growth without having to tear up the ground.
The Pittsfield Conservation Commission won't be able to approve the project because its scale is beyond their scope. But the public can still submit opinions to the commission over the next two weeks. The project will go before the state Department of Environmental Protection at a later date.
The city plans to use the land, which is located directly behind the airport, both to expand the airport's runway by 1,000 feet and to create an aviation easement.
As part of the airport expansion, the Airport Commission plans to extend the airport's main runway from 5,000 to 5,950 feet and to add "graded" runway safety areas at each end.
Gov. Mitt Romney signed a bill allowing for a land swap that will enable the 350-acre airport to expand its runway safety area.
The FAA hopes to extend the airport's main runway from its current 7,166 feet to 9,350 feet, to allow for direct flights to the West Coast.