Airport Runway Project Clears First Environmental Hurdle

By Joe Cohen
NEW BEDFORD — State environmental officials have signed off on a plan to extend runway and runway safety areas and make other improvements at the New Bedford Regional Airport, meaning the facility has cleared its first major hurdle in a process intended to improve airport safety and operations.
Ian A. Bowles, secretary of the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, has determined the Final Environmental Impact Report for the airport complied with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. Now, the airport move ahead with the state permitting process.
Airport Manager Edward J. DeWitt said Wednesday Bowles’ decision was the “first big hurdle” and now the airport is “ready to proceed with full environmental permitting.”
The project is estimated to cost $16 million. Under the current schedule, tree clearing would begin in 2010, construction would begin in 2011 and be completed by 2014.
Improvements at the airport have been under discussion for more than a decade and have involved a wide range of possibilities, including a massive runway extension that would have enabled the facility to accept large cargo planes, but also would have required significant expansion that was opposed by neighbors in New Bedford and Dartmouth. The large project has been abandoned.
The airport now wants to extend Runways 5-23 with about 200 feet of pavement at each end, which will make the usable runways both a minimum 5,000 feet long. Runway 23 would have an additional 400 feet of pavement that would provide 5,400 feet of takeoff distance. Many corporate jets and insurance companies that cover their operation specify a minimum 5,000 feet of runway for safe operation.
In Bowles’ letter of approval, he notes:
— The airport plans to update its master plan in 2011.
— Because the 846-acre airport is surrounded by the Apponagansett Swamp and Acushnet Cedar Swamp, planned work will require wetland mitigation of 7.33 acres. The airport must then create at least twice as much wetland as it disturbed.
— Vegetation management will require tree cutting in 22 acres of forested wetland. Separately, the airport plans another vegetation management/tree cutting project.
— To prevent deer and other animals from getting into the airport, 6,300 feet of 10-foot-tall fence will be constructed. The fence will include openings for small animals such as box turtles.
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March 04, 2009
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