Study on Expanding Bennington Airport Due Soon

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- A study about a proposed expansion of the state airport is due to be released later this week.

The Bennington County Regional Commission commissioned the $25,000 study of the improvements planned for the William H. Morse Airport, which opponents claim will harm the quality of life for nearby residents.

A draft technical memo about the study's findings will be released at a meeting Thursday.

The memo, prepared by Wilbur Smith Associates, has not yet been fully approved by the regional commission's steering committee.

Commission transportation planner James Sullivan said that several possibilities have been studied, including a long and short extension of the runway.

A runway extension, Sullivan said, ''will provide the economic benefit of accommodating a wider range of aircraft.''

Regardless of the length of the extension, he said, the project will involve improvements to navigational aids, airport security, and taxiways.

The airport currently has a 3,704-foot runway. One plan calls for expansion to 4,000 or 4,200 feet. The other plan suggests an extension up to 5,000 feet.

To accommodate the long extension of the runway, a road might have to be moved, Sullivan said. The short extension could be built within the airport's existing property.

Sullivan said that the meeting would give committee members and local residents an opportunity to discuss ''what effect would larger and louder planes have on residential areas.''

The town's director of community development, Scott Murphy, said plans for the runway are ''completely up in the air right now.''

''We want to get all the information out during the public meeting,'' Murphy said.

Charles Putney, a commission committee member and a neighbor of the airport, said that the project would be a subsidy for Air Now, the company that operates the airport.

Putney criticized the use of ''rosy projections'' about the economic benefits of an airport that can accommodate larger planes.

''Just because you build it, doesn't mean they're going to come,'' he added.

The project might also have a negative impact on property values on the flight path to the airport, Putney said.

Bruce Laumeister, the owner of CTC/Vermont Color Corp. and a member of the steering committee, said that he believes the draft memo was ''a little biased toward airport expansion, rather than quality of life.''