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Lebanon Airport Vote Put on Hold Until March

Lebanon — Dozens of city residents packed into City Hall last night only to learn that the debate on a proposed major runway project at the Lebanon Municipal Airport will continue at least through the next month.

City councilors put off voting on the project until March 6 after expressing dissatisfaction with the data that airport officials and the Federal Aviation Administration provided in making their case for why the project, which would expand the north-south runway at the airport by 1,000 feet, is needed.

“I have not seen any data that would convince me that the majority of Lebanon residents would see significant benefits from this major expansion of facilities,” said City Councilor Erling Heistad, who added that federal subsidies could change with the political climate.

“The city of Lebanon cannot afford to accept unnecessary and optional future financial burdens,” he said. “I feel that for many years the residents of Lebanon have had to foot the bill while many forces external to Lebanon have driven the bus. Lebanon needs to drive our own bus and control our own destiny.”

Though no action was required by the council, it could have used the opportunity to put the proposal of a runway expansion, which has been debated since 2006, to rest. But many City Councilors last night voiced several requests for various pieces of data they said were missing from the proposal.

Just minutes before the extended meeting ended, City Councilor Nicole Cormen raised the fact that the noise impact studies that had been conducted so far have not taken into account how much farther sound would travel after the removal of trees and other obstructions that act as a buffer between residential areas and airport property.

Additionally, she said, the schedule for rock blasting and how it would affect nearby quality of life is “just mind-boggling in this report.”

“We’re talking about five days a week for 2 and a half years,” Cormen said, to the audible groaning of many in attendance. “We’re talking about 98 truck trips per day that we don’t currently have.”

Cormen went on to list a number of items that she said the council would need before it could make an educated decision on the fate of the runway expansion:

∎ A runway-specific accident history for the airport that lists the causes of each accident.

∎ Comparison of the Lebanon airport with similarly sized airports and their flight traffic and topography.

■ An independent, objective fiscal analysis “that makes no assumptions going in about what the airport should or shouldn’t be doing” and one which has been vetted by Lebanon Finance Director Len Jarvi.

∎ Spreadsheet of comparative lifetime costs for the Lebanon airport under “build” and “no build” scenarios.

∎ Explanation of what would happen if federal funding was no longer available.

∎ An “exploration of cost-share” with surrounding towns and users.

Taxpayers could be on the hook for anywhere between $650,000 to $1.3 million to pay for expanding the runway, which would also have a considerable impact on the surrounding environmental — 38 acres of tree removal, 800,000 cubic yards of “earth work,” and a direct impact on 10.6 acres of wetlands

If the city chooses the “no build” option, the north-south runway would have to be shortened in length to clear land around the runway for an unobstructed perimeter to accommodate new FAA safety guidelines for landings and takeoffs.

The airport’s sole commercial airline, Cape Air, would not be affected either way by the project, according to spokeswoman Jaqueline Donohoo.

“We’ve proven our success there with or without the runway enhancements,” she said yesterday.

But questions have been raised about the staying power of the federal Essential Air Service grant, an annual subsidy of $2.2 million that makes it economically viable for Cape Air to service the Lebanon airport. The program was under threat by House Republicans in recent Congressional budget talks in Washington.

There has also been speculation over the true impact that the “no build option” — which would lead to a shortening in runway length to just less than 5,000 feet — could have on corporate jet traffic.

Lebanon Municipal Airport Director Rick Dyment has said that it would cut the amount of corporate jet traffic in half, which he said was based off of an internal study of jet traffic at the Lebanon Municipal Airport and guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration that dictate the required length of runway for each aircraft.

According to Dyment, new user fees levied on air traffic at the airport are being weighed as part of the revenue model that he has asserted would offset the cost of the runway improvements.

“We’re looking at a number of options to make (the taxpayer’s contribution to the project) zero,” he said yesterday. “Some of which do involve the people that would benefit would pay a little bit more for certain services.”

City taxpayers paid $198,500 toward the airport’s operating cost in 2012, and the estimated total for this year stands at $215,500.

The mandate for the runway improvement stems from an act of Congress in 2005 that required the Federal Aviation Administration to improve runway safety.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CORRECTION

Rick Dyment is the director of the Lebanon Municipal Airport. An earlier version of this article inadvertently omitted his full name and title.