Airport costs soaring Design change is questioned

August 23, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Carroll County has spent about $800,000 to purchase property county officials say is no longer needed as a buffer for the Carroll County Regional Airport runway expansion.

The county spent that money -- mostly in federal grants -- to purchase land and several houses, and spent another $107,000 to relocate the residents.

County officials have shifted the proposed new 5,100-foot runway 625 feet northwest of its planned location because of changes in Federal Aviation Administration design requirements.

"As a result of the shifting of the runway, some previously acquired property on Littlestown Pike [Md. 97] is no longer specifically needed for the project," county Department of General Services Director J. Michael Evans wrote in an Aug. 19 memo to the county commissioners.

But the Federal Aviation Administration says the Littlestown Pike properties still are needed, through purchase or easement, because of the environmental impact of the airport expansion, according to Carole DiLodovico, supervisor of planning and programming for the Washington Airports District Office in Falls Church, Va. "We're no worse off than we were before [the design changes]," she said. "Funds have not been expended that didn't need to be."

But county officials say that under the current modified runway design, the county wouldn't have bought easements on or purchased the Littlestown Pike properties now outside the runway and noise protection zones, said Kathy Devilbiss, county airport management assistant.

"We wouldn't buy those at county expense," she said. "There would be no justification for FAA to buy them if the runway is where it is now."

Because of confusion and miscommunication between the FAA and county officials, the county pursued acquisition of the Littlestown Pike properties under a misguided notion of the design requirements for the runway.

"It's a process that happened. Everybody thought it was the right thing, and it was at the time," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. "We can't go back. We have to move ahead and make the best of it."

In 1990, the FAA reclassified the airport as a "reliever," which meant it would handle more private air traffic diverted from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The new designation meant new runway design criteria, including a 1,000-foot "extended runway safety area."

The FAA also decided that the runway should be built to 5,100 feet at one time, rather than in phases. That decision also required design of a 1,000-foot overrun, said Terry Page, supervisor of engineering for the Washington district office.

The FAA discussed the new plan with county officials at about the time when the airport was dedicated as Carroll County Regional Airport/Jack B. Poage Field, Mr. Page said. The county announced the airport's new name on Oct. 30, 1990.

But county officials didn't know about the 1,000-foot requirement until about three months ago, when an FAA engineer informed them, Mr. Evans said.

"In hindsight, everybody thinks everybody else should have known," Ms. DiLodovico said.

"I don't think the county is expert at airport design," added the FAA's Mr. Page. "That's either our job or why they hire consultants."

Under the original airport expansion plan, the county was required to protect 300 feet for overrun, but protected 600 feet, Mr. Evans said.

Under the new design, the 1,000-foot overrun requirement would have disrupted county plans to protect land for an interchange of a proposed Westminster bypass highway along Littlestown Pike. The county had to shift the runway to protect the future highway, Mr. Evans said. The shift is away from Littlestown Pike and means the noise will affect fewer residents.

The shift also means the county will have to purchase or acquire easements on five additional properties, including two houses and about 8.5 acres, to protect the approach at the other end of the runway.

The county has signed an option to purchase one house for $125,500. If the county purchases the second home, the total cost of the additional acquisitions caused by the design change could be about $300,000, Ms. Devilbiss estimated.

Under an easement agreement, landowners can stay in their dwellings with the understanding that planes will fly over the property and make noise. The agreement also gives government the right to clear obstructions and prohibit incompatible construction.

The county can retain the property it acquired along Littlestown Pike, but FAA officials prefer that the remaining five houses be removed and that the land be vacant, Mr. Evans said in the memo.

The county could sell the houses and return 95 percent of the money to the airport project. However, the FAA prefers that the land be used for business or industry, if at all, the memo says.

The FAA is paying for 90 percent of the expansion project, including land acquisition, with the state and county each contributing 5 percent. The estimated total cost of the project -- which includes relocation of Meadow Branch Road, the new runway and additional ground support facilities and services -- has increased from $11.3 million in 1986 to $17 million.

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