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Concerns Soar Over Airport As Lebanon Facility Plans Improvements

Thursday, January 07, 2016
West Lebanon — While most city residents and officials described a package of proposed improvements for Lebanon Municipal Airport as better than previous plans, they also expressed concern that the facility would continue to be a drain on the municipal budget and a detriment to the surrounding neighborhood.

The mixed reviews came Tuesday night when the public was invited to comment on a proposed master plan put together by two consulting firms, Binghamton, N.Y.-based McFarland Johnson and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown, Mass.

The consultants have recommended $34.9 million in runway improvements along with reconstruction of the airport taxiways, parking lot and Airpark Road.

Many of the favorable comments noted the plan would have less of an impact on the surrounding landscape than previous proposals.

“These guys have been listening,” said Lebanon resident Peter Brown, who used to live near the airport on Poverty Lane.

Nevertheless, Brown remains worried about the airport’s cost to city taxpayers, the impact of its noise and lights on neighbors, and the effect on the environment.

Brown said he feels it’s important to keep in mind the fact that Lebanon’s is a relatively small airport, with limited clientele and a small commercial airline. Any improvements should be appropriate to the airport’s scale, he said.

To bring in more revenue, the consultants propose allowing private developers to lease space to construct two new hangars.

“I’m concerned about the fact the airport hasn’t been self-sustaining for years,” Brown said. “There’s something wrong with the model.”

West Lebanon resident Margaret Campbell said she was somewhat skeptical of the work proposed by the consultants and wondered about the need to make changes. One of her concerns is that the airport improvements might increase noise and traffic.

After considering six possible ways to bring the airport’s runways into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, consultants settled on a proposal to add crushable concrete blocks to one end of each of the airport’s two runways, McFarland Johnson’s Chad Nixon said.

Those barriers are designed to stop a plane without injuring those on board or substantially damaging the aircraft.

Runway improvements also would include relocating one end of each runway so they begin before the pavement begins — what is known as a displaced threshold.

As with most airport projects, 90 percent of the $34.9 million project — which Nixon said he expected would be constructed in phases over 20 years to spread out the cost — would be paid for by the FAA. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the city would split the remaining 10 percent, with each responsible for $1.75 million.

The city’s share is drawn from passenger facility charges for passengers who get on planes in Lebanon, other airport revenue and the city’s general fund.

In the 10 years from 2003 to 2013, Lebanon taxpayers contributed $18,000 to airport capital projects — 1 percent of the projects’ total cost — according to information compiled by McFarland Johnson.

The work to reconstruct the airport’s parking lot and Airpark Road also would occur over 20 years, Nixon said.

Nixon said he expected airport noise would slightly diminish as older planes are phased out.

The consultants predict modest growth in traffic at the airport, to 31,800 in 2030 from approximately 29,800 planes taking off and landing in Lebanon in 2015. This 7 percent growth rate is consistent with previous forecasts and with national trends, they said.

Like Campbell, Hall Road resident David McLaughlin said noise is his primary concern.

McLaughlin, who lives south of the airport, said he often calls Airport Manager Rick Dyment on weekends to complain about the noise, particularly noise generated by training flights that fly in continuous low circles, he said.

While he said he would prefer to see the airport property used for a solar array or a new high school, McLaughlin said, he understood that eliminating the airport would not be feasible because the city would be required to reimburse the FAA for the millions of dollars in aid it has provided to the airport over the years.

Overall, McLaughlin said, he preferred the consultants’ proposal to previous plans that would have had a greater impact on the surrounding landscape.

The City Council rejected one such proposal — a runway expansion proposal to extend the southern end of the north-south runway by 1,000 feet and to lower the elevation of a nearby hill by 30 feet for an anticipated cost of $13.3 million to $23.2 million — in 2013 .

At the time, councilors pointed to a lack of information and the price tag as reasons for their opposition to the project.

The fact that some people regarded the currently proposed improvements as better than previous proposals didn’t impress former City Councilor Steve Wood, whose Poverty Lane Orchards abuts the airport.

That was akin to saying “a kick in the (rear) is better than a kick in the nose,” he said.

Wood described the city’s stated goal of making the airport self-sustaining as disingenuous because he believes it’s not achievable.

Others, however, expressed more enthusiasm for the proposals.

“They’ve come up with a solution that is going to be beneficial for the city, for the FAA and for the neighbors,” City Councilor Carol Dustin said. “It feels good to have it somewhat settled.”

The council is expected to take up the consultants’ proposals in February.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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