State-owned Greenwood Lake Airport really taking off

WEST MILFORD - Tucked up against a wooded ridge in the heart of North Jersey's Highlands, Greenwood Lake Airport seems the typical little country airport. But looks are deceiving: Thanks to a modernization after being bought by the state, the...


"Greenwood Lake Airport ranks as of one the better airports in the area," said Jim Warden, a West Milford councilman and pilot who flies two planes in and out of the site. "All airports present challenges, but they've made a lot of improvements, such as new lights, and it is a very safe airport."

But safety questions rose to a frenzy after a four-story assisted-living facility was built in the 1990s, just 2,600 feet from the southern end of the runway, in what is considered in the "airport safety zone." Some critics pointed fingers at local officials for approving the housing project.

State officials investigated and eventually decided to shorten the runway, from 4,000 feet to 3,740, by moving the painted markings on the airstrip.

That forces planes to take off sooner and land later.

"This makes the planes get up and clear the safety zone," Ritorato said. "They still have plenty of runway to take off and land."

The strip is still longer than some others nearby, including in Lincoln Park, Sussex and Newton.

It wasn't enough, however, to stop Janet Fletcher, a widow of one of the men killed in the 2005 crash, from filing suit in February against Cessna Aircraft Co. and the DOT, claiming the state agency maintained the airstrip in an "unsafe and dangerous condition." The suit is still in the court system.

Meanwhile, Wagner has overseen interior improvements to the building that houses an office, lobby, banquet hall and café.

The banquet hall is undergoing renovations to be completed this month, and Wagner is looking for a restaurant that would open in the café area next to the lobby.

Besides overseeing daily operations and renovations, Wagner also had to sort out apparently incorrect results from an audit that said he was behind in payments to the DOT by about $24,000. His management firm collects fees from plane owners and then pays the state $16,500 a month.

Sandra Gutarra, a DOT spokeswoman, said Wagner is paid in full but declined to elaborate further on the state audit.

"We're very proud of the airport and the improvements done here," Gutarra said.

Fast facts

Details about area airports (Flight numbers are only estimates. No agency keeps track of the number of planes landing and taking off at small airports.):

Greenwood Lake

20,000 flights annually

3,740-foot runway

5 fatal accidents; 13 people killed*

Lincoln Park

50,000 flights annually

2,942-foot runway

2 fatal accidents; 6 people killed*

Caldwell

175,000 flights annually

4,553-foot runway

2 fatal accidents; 3 people killed*

Sussex

30,000 flights annually

3,499-foot runway

2 fatal accidents; 4 people killed*

*1962 to present

Source: FAA

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