Airport Association Board Public Hearing Not Quite What Was Expected

Many of the individuals who attended last night’s public hearing regarding the Pulaski County Airport Expansion Project were a bit surprised. Most of the people expected a more direct form of a question and answer session, but were instead greeted with a court stenographer to whom they could address their questions, or a “question box” in which to drop their query. Various information displays on whiteboards were propped up throughout the snow removal building for people to glean information from, along with several tables with plans, layouts, and other displays set out. Individuals were free to roam the snow removal building to examine all the information.

However, there were individuals from Woolpert Airport Consultants available to field direct questions. Maria Muia and Mark Shillington with Woolpert were at the meeting, and explained some aspects of the project and answered what questions they could. Any other questions were directed to the stenographer or the question box, and comments that warrant answers will be answered in the final Environmental Assessment report. Several copies of the final EA report will be given to the airport for people to request.

“I would recommend then, when the final document is approved, that they obtain a copy of it. And what I do is I give the airports a certain amount of copies, if the commissioners ask for a copy, I’ll provide them. I won’t make a copy and send it directly to the property owner, but it will be available for their review and then they can let it be known whether they feel their comment was properly addressed,” said Shillington.

The project is being considered because Arens Field is currently not in conformance with current FAA standards, and the improvements would provide increased safety to current and future airport users. The expected cost of the project is $2,630,000, and 95% of that would be covered by the FAA, 1.25% by INDOT, and the remaining 3.75% would be covered by the county.

Ralph Braun, CEO of the Braun Corporation, was also present at the meeting to discuss the project with those present. The Braun Corporation would benefit greatly from the expansion, because with the runway not up to the current standard of 5005 feet, they are forced to lower the amount of weight on their aircraft in order to land on the shorter runway. This adds up to a substantial amount of difference in cost of operation.

The Pulaski County Commissioners, as well as Auditor Shelia Garling, were also in attendance. Because the project involves the closure of road 100 West, the Commissioners play a large part in deciding whether or not the project can continue.

The proposed expansion requires the acquisition of 71 acres of farmland from private owners, and this is a huge concern for many people. The Airport Association Board has been looking into expanding their runway by 800 feet, which would allow larger corporate aircraft to land at their airport without jeopardizing their insurance. One common complaint is that the reports used give false numbers on how regularly the airport is used, and several people have stated that they know that the airport has nowhere near the amount of traffic it claims.

“Some of the research done had indicated that the traffic was less than when I pulled the numbers. And there are several reasons for that, but I don’t deny that the traffic now is a lot less than it was,” said Shillington. “Someone asked me, with the lower amount of traffic, will the FAA still issue the grant? And I can’t answer that. The answer could be yes, it could be no.”

Rick and Becky Dilts, two citizens strongly opposed to the airport expansion, were at the meeting as well in the hopes of getting more answers. They distributed copies of a letter voicing their concerns “regarding the environmental, economic, and social ramifications of the proposed airport expansion of Aren’s Field.” In the letter, they claim that the airport cannot afford to maintain the additional length of the runway, because the airport has been having trouble maintaining what it currently has. Also attached to the letter was an email from Derrick Dilts explaining his concerns with the project, and described his father’s property, which is at risk of being acquired for the expansion project, as family land passed down from generation to generation.

For the land being acquired, the airport owner would arrange for a property appraiser familiar with local property values to appraise the property and give an opinion of its current fair market value. If the project was to be approved and the funding is established, land acquisition could begin in late 2011 and 2012. The road closure and construction would start in 2014.

This matter is nowhere near decided, and it is expected to come before the Commissioners as well as the Council again for further discussion.