County delays airport contract

Perception of bias in environmental assessment feared

September 02, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The county commissioners have delayed awarding a contract for an environmental assessment of the Carroll County Regional Airport, a process that must be completed over the next two years before the planned multimillion-dollar runway expansion can move forward.

Although the county staff recommended awarding the $800,000 contract to Hunt Valley-based URS Corp., Commissioners Dean L. Minnich and Michael D. Zimmer said the public might object to having the environmental assessment performed by the same consultants who developed and advocated for the expansion plan.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she would have approved the URS Corp. proposal because the Federal Aviation Administration would thoroughly examine any assessment to ensure that it met requirements.

"The FAA will not take a report until they are satisfied that we have everything correct," Gouge said.

Cindy Parr, chief of administrative services, is speaking to FAA officials about how to proceed on the required assessment, which will take 18 to 24 months.

Richmond, Va.-based Delta Airport Consultants, which performed an environmental assessment for the county in 2003, also submitted a proposal for the current project.

The environmental assessment will determine how the runway expansion will affect air quality, wetlands, architecture, noise pollution and the people living near the airport, said Gary Horst of the county's Office of Performance Auditing.

It will propose measures to mitigate any negative impacts of the expansion. Environmental effects have been the primary concern of the airport expansion's many vocal opponents in the Westminster area.

This summer, local activists persuaded county officials to postpone cutting about 330 trees near the runway, where a precision lighting system is called for to better guide pilots landing at night.

The state forestry board recently denied the county's request to harvest that timber because the trees are in a forest conservation area.

"We're waiting to look at their decision to evaluate how we move forward," Parr said.

The 2003 Delta Airport Consultants study called for installing that lighting system, Horst said.

In June, Gouge and Minnich voted to adopt URS Corp.'s $56 million plan to relocate and expand the airport's 5,100-foot runway 250 feet west and 600 feet north. Zimmer voted against the expansion plan.

Horst said URS Corp. and Delta Airport Consultants have more experience with airport expansions in the state than other firms do.

"URS or Delta or XYZ may do the master plan," but that doesn't mean one of the companies would produce a biased report, Horst said.

Opponents of the airport expansion have also expressed concern about increased noise pollution that they say could lower the values of homes near the runway.

The National Organization to Insure a Sound-controlled Environment, a community group that addresses the effects of aviation noise, briefed the county commissioners last week on the organization's work in Washington. Congress is to vote on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill in the next month.

Research estimates that property decreases 0.3 percent to 2.3 percent in value for every decibel increase in noise pollution, said Dennis McGrann, executive director of the group, which is known as NOISE.

"With the noise increase, the property values are adversely affected," he said.

The FAA funds measures to mitigate noise pollution, including insulation and window and door replacements or treatments, McGrann said.

Tim Feeser, special assistant to Gouge, said he represented the county at a NOISE conference in Atlanta in mid-July.

"Noise is one of the big issues we have," Feeser said. "If there are people out there with more experience on the issue, it makes sense to get them involved."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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