Pittsfield Runway Expansion Considered

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The City Council on Tuesday is expected to consider the taking of three parcels of the Watroba Farm on South Mountain Road by eminent domain to expand the Pittsfield Municipal Airport runway by 1,000 feet.

The expansion would likely cut the property in two, said farm owner Edwin Watroba, who appears to view the city's taking of his property as a fait accompli.

"I'm not so naive (as to think) that they're going to put a bend in the runway to put it around my property," Watroba told the City Council two weeks ago during a public hearing on the issue. "And I know they're not going to find a new location for the airport."

What has upset Watroba is that, under the terms of a land swap approved by then Gov. Mitt Romney in August allowing the $40 million airport expansion project to go forward, a portion of his remaining property is scheduled to be added to the nearby Wild Acres Conservation Area. The agreement requires the city to add 84 acres to the conservation area to take 21 current acres of the conservation area to expand the airport.

'Pretty unethical'

A portion of that 84 acres belongs to Watroba, and he would rather continue to farm it than see it turned into parkland. The farm has been in his family for three generations.

"Parks are created through the donation of land," Watroba told the City Council. "The confiscation of farm land by eminent domain against a farmer's will for a park is pretty unethical, in my opinion."

Watroba has not returned telephone calls from The Eagle seeking further comment.

Whether Watroba can still farm that land is under negotiation, airport manager Mark Germanowski said yesterday.

Germanowski described the negotiations as "varied" and "complicated."

"It's a sensitive issue," he said. "We're trying to impact the farm as little as possible."

The city of Pittsfield has offered to pay Watroba $1.3 million for three parcels and part of a fourth that will contain an aviation easement. Following the City Council's hearing in March, which included remarks by Watroba, his attorney Ira J. Kaplan of Great Barrington, Germanowski and airport consultant Randall P. Christiansen, Council President Gerald M. Lee said that the council would take the entire matter under advisement until its next meeting.

Before the council votes Tuesday on whether the city can take Watroba's property, it will be required to vote on whether Watroba presented "appropriate evidence" that there are other properties available that could be turned into parkland, Lee said.

Other options not sufficient

Kaplan told the council two weeks ago that three other properties would satisfy that requirement: a site off Industrial Drive near Clapp Park, land around Mud Pond and an area on Fort Hill Avenue.

"Under the law, the taking of farmland is not legal unless there are viable options," he said.

Christensen called Kaplan's options "excellent" opportunities that would not affect Wild Acres. But he said that only land connected to Wild Acres would satisfy that legal requirement.

"We need contiguous property," Christiansen said. "The only area that is contiguous happens to be Mr. Watroba's property."

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. Under the original plan, the safety area at the northeastern end of the runway would have bisected South Mountain Road. But the Airport Commission, in reaction to the public's concerns, asked the Federal Aviation Administration to approve a shorter runway area so that the road can be looped around. The standard runway safety area is 1,000 feet.

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