The Federal Aviation Administration will move a radar tower to another location at Lehigh Valley International Airport rather than place it on South Mountain, resolving an issue of some controversy.
The FAA had said it wanted to take advantage of South Mountain's height to expand the range of the tower, which would serve LVIA and planes flying through the region.
Officials from Lehigh University and Lower Saucon Township, where the tower would have been placed, protested last year, saying the structure would be an eyesore and would damage the mountain's ecology. Officials also were concerned about the tower's proximity to the Star of Bethlehem, which is a symbol of Bethlehem, the Christmas City.
Instead, the 87-foot tower, which will be topped by a rotating orange radar antenna arm, will be built on a vacant parcel in Allen Township that is already owned by the airport. The new location was announced Tuesday at a meeting of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which runs LVIA. The authority also approved a three-year contract with its police force.
The FAA wants to replace the existing tower in order to install more advanced equipment. The current radar system is located closer to the airport, on a parcel of land between Race Street in Catasauqua and the main runway. The agency wanted a location with fewer obstructions. The deal will free up 58 acres of land at LVIA, which will be used for airplane ramps or additional hangars.
The FAA will pay for the cost of the equipment, and for the relocation, which was approved Tuesday by the airport's board. The FAA will install new radar equipment in the summer and fall of 2008, said Larry Krauter, LVIA's deputy director. It will deactivate and remove the current radar system in 2009.
The board also approved a contract with the A-B-E Police Association that will preserve the airport's right to lay off officers if traffic falls, but will provide bonuses if the number of passengers increases. The contract, which covers nine full-time and six part-time officers, will be retroactive to the beginning of 2006.
Full-time officers will receive a one-time lump sum of $740 for each officer to compensate for last year's lack of raises. The contract will provide officers with annual salary increases of 1.875 percent. Airport officials said the annual raises are on the low end because LVIA agreed to continue shouldering the entire cost of the officers' healthcare benefits.
The full-time officers will receive a $450 annual bonus if the airport exceeds 500,000 departing passengers in a calendar year. They won't receive the bonus for last year, when enplanements fell below 500,000.
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