Airport opponents rally

Residents lobby against the county commissioner's vote on expansion scheduled this week

June 10, 2007|By David P. Greisman | David P. Greisman,Special to The Sun

Opponents of the proposed Carroll County Regional Airport expansion have ramped up their efforts to derail the project in advance of this week's scheduled vote by the county commissioners.

One citizens' group sent a letter to the commissioners urging a six-month delay of the decision date, while another met with county officials last week to discuss its concerns.

The commissioners are expected to vote Tuesday on one of four options for the airport expansion.

"We'll deliberate," said Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer. "An important part of the process is to rub minds together and see what our thinking is. There may be nuances and angles that I hadn't thought of that one of my colleagues may have."

But Tad A. Rau, a member of the anti-expansion Carroll Joint Neighborhood Association, said that the group's Thursday meeting with Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge and Zimmer will probably not have an impact on the final decision.

"The right thing to do is to have a dialogue," Rau said. "I believe the issue is they've already made up their minds."

Consultants from United Research Services have recommended relocating the airport's runway 250 feet west and 600 feet north of its present location at a cost of $56 million. The other three options include leaving the runway as is, which would require $8.7 million in surface improvements; extending the runway at a cost of $42.8 million; or relocating the runway 375 feet west for $59.3 million.

About $86.8 million has been budgeted for the expansion of the current 5,100-foot runway and related upgrades, $71.6 million of which is expected to come from the Federal Aviation Administration, county officials said. Private clients could contribute an additional $9.5 million to lease corporate hangars, according to the county's budget projections.

Money was just one of the issues raised by the Carroll Joint Neighborhood Association. The group is also concerned with potential drops in property values and its assertion that, before last week's meeting, it had not yet received the opportunity to have its questions answered.At an April 2 public meeting, Anirban Basu of the Sage Policy Group Inc. of Baltimore answered questions about the airport's economic impact on the community. The session was extended for 30 minutes to accommodate additional questions. And at a two-hour hearing on May 23, residents were able to speak for three minutes apiece, said county spokeswoman Vivian D. Laxton.

The 25-minute meeting between Gouge, Zimmer and the Carroll Joint Neighborhood Association was, at times, a contentious back-and-forth. Group members left dissatisfied.

"We have no answers yet," Cheri Grubby, co-chair of the neighborhood association, said after the meeting. "We are at a standstill. We have not yet been able to have open dialogue."

Zimmer, though, said that while it was important to meet with Grubby's group, it was a little too late for the kind of interaction they ended up having.

"We're at a stage where we're looking for straight advocacy -- tell us what you want and why you want it," Zimmer said. "I'm satisfied that there has been more than abundant opportunity for questions and answers."

"I'm not sure it was a productive meeting," Gouge said. "I'm not sure if they left here feeling any better. I'm just hoping that some of them will really think that ... we're not trying to destroy the county.

"We're not going to be another BWI -- that's absolutely impossible," she said. "We are a reliever airport."

Gouge also questioned whether the Carroll Joint Neighborhood Association, which claims to have collected more than 1,200 signatures opposing the expansion, truly represents the desires of the entire county.

"I don't know what the people have been told that signed the petition," she said. "They [the neighborhood association] are generalizing that they are the spokesman for all of Carroll County."

Another anti-expansion group, Concerned Citizens United, recently formed and its members hope to gain nonprofit 501-c3 status so that the group can hire the pro bono services of an attorney. Concerned Citizens United recently sent a letter asking the commissioners to put off voting on the airport expansion until Dec. 12.

"If [the commissioners] vote yes, that's simply round one," said Victoria Oneda, the group's spokeswoman. "We're going to continue fighting this."

Sun reporter Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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