SOUTHBURY -- Residents living near Waterbury-Oxford Airport want the state to consider different options than looking to buy homes near it to eliminate noise complaints.
Most of the 80 people in the audience Wednesday for a state Department of Transportation public hearing asked transportation officials why it needed to buy about 70 homes in Middlebury's Triangle Hill neighborhood to ease noise concerns.
A capital improvement plan prepared by Clough Harbor & Associates would cost more than $61 million. That includes expansion of taxiways, construction of a new hangar and installation of new lighting.
The Department of Transportation is listening to comments as it decides on possible improvements to the airport's master plan and how noise complaints will be addressed. Voluntarily purchasing the 70 homes is one of eight noise abatement measures listed in a draft noise study. It is also the most controversial.
Bob Marzinotto of Christian Road in Middlebury voiced his frustration with the plan, saying he probably won't be able to sell his home if the state is looking at taking it. Though he's interested in selling his home now, Marzinotto said notification of the program means he will not get a great price.
"Do you feel like you've damaged the [value] of the homeowners? I've got to wait three years," he said. James Mason, a state transportation official involved in property acquisition, said officials are required to mention a possible home-purchasing program. People living in the proposed purchase area would be eligible for moving expenses as well, Mason said.
Mark MacKinney, of Towantic Hill Road in Oxford, asked for the airport to be closed overnight. "Why not shut it down? What's really going on?" he said.
Relocating nighttime takeoffs to a southbound runway is an option that's being considered. Others include having towns require fair disclosure regulations for new residential development and creating a noise related subdivision in the airport zone.
Middlebury First Selectman Edward St. John, who did not attend the meeting, remains against the option. He referred to it as "eminent domain, except in reverse."
"Nothing has changed, except I'm madder," he said. "Our Triangle Hill neighborhood was there before the airport. I feel this is truly nothing but strong-arming [by] the government."
Transportation officials expect to have a final noise study by the end of the year. Any plan will have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
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Residents there have complained for years that they have been treated unfairly because they were not offered buyouts for their homes and were instead given noise-mitigation options.
Unless the city buys up land around the airport, there's little officials can do about the encroaching housing.