Wilmington DRB hears airport runway extension case


WILMINGTON -- Representatives of the Hermitage Club Real Estate Holding Company appeared before the Development Review Board in hopes of securing local approval for their plans to extend the runway to 4,400 feet.

On Oct. 21, the Wilmington DRB met for the second and final hearing regarding this phase of development at the Deerfield Valley Airport. Before the hearing concluded, the board went to the airport for a site visit.

One of the major discussion points regarded a noise study that the board held off bringing up in a hearing until all board members had thoroughly read the report. Resource System Group Senior Director Ken Kaliski, an expert on noise, pointed out that for the most part, the noise levels from prop planes and jets that will be flying in and out of the Deerfield Valley Airport will be similar to the noise produced at the site now. He used a chart that showed his findings.

"There's one louder plane and one quieter jet plane allowed to use the airport," he said. "As a plane goes by, the loudest point will probably be at the takeoff, then from there (the sound level) goes down."

Kaliski showed that the noise levels were a combined average of decibels measured during times when an aircraft was taking off and landing and when there was no activity at the airport at all.

"So, you're mixing in the sound with a lot of time where there isn't too much noise?" asked DRB Chairwoman Nicki Steel.

"That's the way the (Federal Aviation Administration) does their noise guidelines," said Kaliski.

An abutting landowner asked if there was any way to limit the noise or set restrictions on the noise levels.

"It's something we can look at," said Steel. "That's why we're getting testimony from you and others."

The landowner asked if the plans are approved, what would stop bigger airplanes from flying in and out of the airport?

"Our understanding is that the airport is going to be for planes with a certain wing span and tail weight," said Hermitage Club Vice President Bob Rubin. "We don't anticipate bringing in any bigger jets than those with eight to 12 seats."

By FAA standards, the airport will only support a category of aircraft, known as B1, he added. The list of those allowed planes and jets were detailed in the report. There was also a list of planes that have used the airport in the past.

"It's good to look at both because we want to make sure people understand the category of airplanes," said attorney Bob Fisher, who represented the Hermitage Club. "It's going to limit the size of planes that come in."

For construction during the runway extension, Kaliski recommended limiting major outdoor construction to between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. He also advised the Hermitage Club representatives to give neighbors the phone numbers of site supervisors during runway construction work.

Rubin said they'd be happy to abide by that. He mentioned that the plan includes fixing a culvert off Coldbrook Road that would connect to the airport, so that vehicles traveling on Airport Road would be kept at a minimum.

Steel asked if adding any plantings or trees at the northern end of the runway could impact noise levels.

"Unfortunately, not enough," Kaliski replied. "To make a difference, you need at least 100 feet of trees."

He said the only thing that would make sense would be to put berms up, but since the space is so narrow, easements would be required for such work. Big walls were another option discussed. All were said to be expensive and not part of the plan.

A local homeowner near the airport stated he had been attracted to the Partridge Run development because he wanted to eventually obtain his license to operate a plane.

"Jim Barnes is a business man," he continued. "He bought the airport to bring business to Haystack."

But the homeowner told the board he didn't "want to have 35 planes taking off on a weekend day or Christmas week."

"I'm the only present one from Partridge Run. Everyone's concern is noise and hours," he said. "It's a small community. "

During peak use of the airport, in the 1980s and 1990s, eight to 10 airplanes were using the airport on a daily basis, the report stated. In the near future, the average number of flights would likely be five flights a day. Rubin said there may be four flights in one day then 16 on another day.

Mount Snow Director of Planning and Permitting Laurie Newton made it clear that safety and the noise level in Dover were the chief concerns of her employer. With development taking place near the Mount Snow Golf Course, which abuts the airport, more traffic has been a concern. She proposed imposing conditions that would limit the daily maximum of flights to five takeoffs and during peak days, keeping it to "maybe 12 flights or slightly higher."

"Mount Snow has rights to tiedowns at the airport. In response, I would think Mount Snow would want to keep the airport as flexible as possible," Fisher said. "I just don't think it's all that realistic to have a cap on the number of landings. Secondly, with regard to the Partridge Run development, which was developed by (previous owner Bob) North with the idea that that development was advertised as you can fly to your house. It's not an undue adverse effect when it's next to a residential resort area. It's very different compared to Bennington or Rutland or for that matter, any city airport. It's an attraction to be able to hop into your plane in New York or New Jersey and be here in at least half the time of driving here."

It would be impossible to impose restrictions on the airport like Newton proposed, several Hermitage Club representatives stated.

"It's opened or closed," said pilot Ken Buckley. "To distinguish from 12 to 14 planes? There's no way of controlling that."

Newton also asked if the Hermitage Club planned on allowing planes with visitors who may be going to or staying at places other than Hermitage Club owned property.

"They just have to register with us," said Rubin. "It's open to the public. We have no desire to restrict the runway."

The DRB also heard testimony about traffic studies that were conducted on roads near the airport, which included Country Club Road, Cross Town Road and Airport Road. With 10 flights every day, there was an expectation for 34 daily vehicle trips stemming from airport use. That would mean 17 cars or trucks traveling into the airport area and 17 traveling away from it. On a typical weekend in the winter, it is anticipated there would be about 84 daily trips occurring below the golf course and airport; 34 trips would then be added to that number for a total of 118 vehicle trips.

"I'm assuming there will be 10 new flights that will be generated in the future when the Hermitage is built up and the economy comes back," said Jennifer Conley, of Conley Associates, the group that conducted the traffic studies for the application.

Eventually, there will be gates at both the south and north end of the airport, Fisher said. Access to the gates would have to be authorized by Hermitage personnel.

The access road from Coldbrook Road, if approved in the Act 250 proposal, would only be authorized for construction, maintenance and emergency services.

"It would not be a public throughway," said Fisher. "It has to be gated at both ends for safety... Access would be by permission or coded."

When DRB Co-Chair Andrew Schindel asked if the entire area would be fenced in, Rubin replied that fencing on site was not their intention at this point.

Wilmington Fire Department Assistant Chief Richard Covey told the DRB that the fire department had been working with the state of Connecticut because "the state of Vermont has no training facilities or training in the state."

"We don't have a firm price for the fire department to be trained for air disaster," he continued, requesting that the Hermitage Club provide funding for the training necessary to be qualified for such events.

Covey also mentioned that such training should be refreshed every three years.

"We're agreeable to that," said Rubin.

Fisher established, with the assistance of Buckley, that the airport had been used since its inception in the 1960s. Buckley has flown in and out of the airport for decades.

The airport had been listed on the existing town plan. Steel had requested that the applicants show proof of the airport existing for over 45 years. Local and state permits documented that the airport had been under several ownerships, but had been opened for public use except a short amount of time.

The hearing was closed and no further testimony can be given. The board will have 45 days to accept or deny the application.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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