Bern Twp. May Stop Upgrades to Reading Regional Airport Runway

Aug. 11--Reading Regional Airport Authority members said Tuesday that Bern Township is holding the authority hostage, demanding an impossible ransom in an attempt to close a major runway.

"Their ultimate goal is to have less operation at the airport, and if we have to shut down (Runway) 18-36, they get closer to their goal," said authority Solicitor Eugene C. LaManna.

That north-south runway is the airport's instrument landing strip in bad weather, but it's in urgent need of reconstruction.

The airport's $6 million plan calls for buying state-owned land on the runway's Schuylkill River end, building a federally required runway safety zone there, looping the township's Leisz's Bridge Road around the end of the safety zone and repaving the runway surface.

The Federal Aviation Administration would pay for 95 percent of the work.

But Bern Supervisor George Cush said at a meeting last week that the township won't allow the road relocation or give up its right of first refusal to buy the state land, unless the FAA promises in writing it won't require a safety zone on the runway's south end as well.

That zone likely would extend across Route 183 into the nearby Greenfields development, where Cush lives.

Cush had said the supervisors want the FAA's written promise that it won't order the runway approach lights to be upgraded, requiring land and home acquisitions in Greenfields.

Airport authority members said Tuesday that there's no way the FAA would make that promise, and even if it did, any new administration could renege on it.

But without Bern's permission on the road and the state land, they said, the entire project falls through, there's no FAA-required safety zone, there's no FAA money to rebuild the runway and eventually the airport would have to close it.

"It's part of their leverage, but it's really not leverage if we can't deliver a letter from the FAA," said authority Chairman Michael A. Setley. "Is there something else they want? Can we buy them a cop car or something?"

LaManna said of the supervisors: "You're not dealing with an arm's length, rational situation with them. It all has to do with who lives where."

What irks the airport authority is that although the Bern supervisors have known for a year the airport wants to relocate the road, they didn't mention their demand for the FAA promises until the last minute.

Contacted after the meeting, Cush said the airport has known the township's concerns for months.

He said Bern officials have been told 15 different stories about the FAA's requirements for approach lights and safety zone on that runway's southern end, but none of those stories came from the FAA.

The most recent accounting came from new airport Manager Terry Sroka that the FAA doesn't want those upgraded lights at all, he said.

"We said: 'Good. Get them to put it in writing,' " Cush said. "All we want them (FAA officials) to do is to clarify their position; that's all we ask for.

"This is a bargaining chip. One good deed does another."

As for LaManna's comments, Cush said he's just spouting off.

"I'd rather have him come to my face to tell me, rather than spout off about a meeting he never attended," Cush said.