Airport's growth struggle persists

Commissioners approve security system

group of residents is worried about pollution

November 19, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Some Westminster residents are still voicing opposition to the proposed $74 million Carroll County Regional Airport runway expansion, as county officials move closer to completing a draft of the airport master plan by Dec. 31.

To assuage concerns about safety, the commissioners last week approved a federal Department of Homeland Security grant to purchase a 24-hour airport security management system.

The security cameras should be installed by February, said Joseph Varrone, the county's performance auditing administrator. Precision indicator lights will also be completed on the runway in the next month to better guide pilots landing at night, Varrone said.

Residents opposed to the expansion may have an ally in Michael D. Zimmer, a Republican who won the third seat on the new board of commissioners.

Ron Buczkowski, who chairs the Carroll Joint Neighborhood Association, a group of citizens opposed to expansion, campaigned for Zimmer this fall.

"I have a degree of skepticism about the expansion, but I'd also like to think I have an open mind," Zimmer said. "What exactly is the justification for expansion? Is the benefit just because the feds are giving us a pile of money? That doesn't cut it with me."

Nearby residents are concerned that the airport would attract larger aircraft that could reduce the property values of their homes and increase noise and air pollution in the rural area, according to a letter Buczkowski and his association recently sent to U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

"It's not that we're against increased security measures," Buczkowski said. "But the airport continues to lose money every year, and they keep throwing tax dollars at it, whether federal, state or local money. The whole project needs to be re-evaluated."

Buczkowski's anti-airport expansion group has asked Bartlett to help stop the acceptance of federal and Maryland Aviation Administration funds, which will pay for the bulk of the project.

Most of the money that would be invested in the airport over the next six years would come from the Federal Aviation Administration and state funds.

Only about $1.9 million in county funds would be required for the runway expansion, according to county projections.

The residents are also worried about negative effects on the surrounding environment. The expansion could destroy existing wetland areas, consume farmland and further pollute wildlife habitats, Buczkowski said.

Opponents of the expansion will have plenty of time to speak out at public hearings in January and February before a final plan is approved in March, Varrone said.

"There is a process that needs to be followed," he said. "Unfortunately, any decision that we make will make some people happy and some people unhappy."

Buczkowski said the county has not justified the need for the airport expansion nor properly posted notices of the plan's progress on the home page of the county Web site.

"The airport master plan is still not on there," Buczkowski said. "It does seem like it's being kept out of the public view."

The Carroll County Board of Realtors requires an addendum on all home-sale contracts warning buyers that existing and planned airports may be built near the property they are purchasing, Buczkowski said.

He said he wasn't given such a warning when he purchased his home on Indian Valley Road near the airport 20 years ago.

"We didn't know it was going to become a jetport big enough for 747s," Buczkowski said.

Residents have had heightened concerns about security since an August incident in which airport fences were cut, the locks of airplane hangars tampered with and several gallons of gasoline were stolen, police said.

As part of the airport's master plan, the county is considering extending the 5,100-foot runway by 1,400 feet to accommodate larger planes. The master plan also calls for the construction of more corporate hangars, while razing and rebuilding the aging hangars that house smaller planes.

Even without an expansion, the existing runway would need refurbishing by fiscal year 2013, county spokeswoman Vivian D. Laxton has said.

All the controversy surrounding the airport has been a distraction from his daily duties to evaluate the efficiency of county departments and allied agencies, Varrone said.

"You know the airport is only a small percentage of what I do here," Varrone said. "But it has to be done. It's important."

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