Airport upgrade for the birds? Endangered species hearing held at MA airport

Airport upgrade for the birds Endangered species hearing held at MA airport

Airport upgrade for the birds Endangered species hearing held at MA airport

Looking to improve pilot safety, ensure motorists do not drive onto its runway, and prevent contamination from water runoff from snow removal equipment, officials are planning a $2 million upgrade for Gardner’s Roderick Bent Municipal Airport.

The airport, in Templeton just off Airport Road in Gardner, was built in 1929, at a time when several northern Central Massachusetts airports were being built. Its 3,000-foot runway has seen two major reconstruction projects since the 1970s. The new project, being administered by the Gardner Airport Commission, will be built over five years. It will include reconstructing and relocating 2,000 feet of the airport’s access road, and building a 2,600-square-foot garage for the airport’s snow removal equipment. At present there is no garage for the snow equipment, and it has to be parked outside. It will also include installation of a precision approach path indicator, runway end lights and about 2,500 feet of 6-foot-high fencing.

At a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act hearing yesterday afternoon at the airport, Colleen P. Mailloux, project manager for Gale Associates of Bedford, N.H., said the fencing will be installed to prevent vehicles from gaining access to the airport runway. She said there have not been any incidents in which vehicles have interfered with aircraft, but with the limited fencing now in place, such a problem is possible.

Ms. Mailloux said relocating the access road will also improve safety for the airport by moving the road farther away from buildings and the runway. Moving the road will also limit access to airport facilities, which will require a key or card to unlock the gate. She said it will not limit access to nearby Gardner conservation land along the Otter River.

The hearing yesterday was held mainly because the airport has been identified as habitat and possibly home to two endangered species, the grasshopper sparrow and vesper sparrow. Yesterday, there were mostly tree sparrows flitting around the airport looking for bugs. Daniel Nitzsche, environmental consultant for the project, said no grasshopper or vesper sparrows were found at the airport in a wildlife study conducted by the engineering firm.

“That doesn’t mean they haven’t been here,” he said.

The study did turn up a Cooper’s hawk, mourning doves, great blue heron and killdeer. Sandra K. Kozlowski of Templeton, who lives near the airport, concerned about the project.

Nicholas Zavolas, who conducted the hearing for the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, told Mrs. Kozlowski she should send a letter to his organization with her concerns, so that it may be included in recommendations that will be sent to the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and the state Department of Environmental Protection when the two organizations consider whether to approve the project. The project will also need approval from Templeton officials as the airport, although owned by Gardner, is in that town. Anyone looking to comment on the project must contact MEPA by Aug. 9.

Ms. Mailloux said the project will improve, but not change the face of the airport.

“It will continue to be a general aviation airport,” she said.

The airport handles mostly small aircraft, with several thousand takeoffs and landings each year.

Kevin McCole, manager of the airport and owner of a business at the airport, said many of the improvements to the airport are paid for by a tax on aviation fuel. The proposed project will be paid for in part with money from the state Department of Transportation Aviation Division.

Source: George Barnes, Telegram & Gazette StaffTELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)



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