Runway Safety Project at New Bedford Airport Enters Public Input Phase

By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — The Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting public comments on a multimillion-dollar plan to improve runway safety at the New Bedford Regional Airport, the corps announced this week.
“It’s entirely a safety project,” said airport Manager Edward DeWitt. “It’s not a runway expansion.”
The project involves filling 7.89 acres of wetlands adjacent to the airport, located at 1569 Airport Road, in order to construct buffer zones at each end of the primary runway, known as runway 5-23, according to DeWitt.
These buffer zones, or runway safety areas, are required by the Federal Aviation Administration, said DeWitt; the airport’s runways have sufficient safety areas on the sides but not at the ends, he said.
“They’re basically there for an airplane that lands short or runs out of takeoff room,” said DeWitt.
Plans to build buffer zones for the airport’s second runway are in the pipeline, but runway 5-23 — the “instrument” runway and the one that is used in bad weather, said DeWitt — is the priority, he said.
As part of the project, about 18.5 acres of replacement wetlands will be built on airport property, according to an Army Corps release.
The Army Corps’ public comment period ends March 5.
According to Tim Dugan, a spokesman for the Army Corps, the goal is to make decisions on permits within four months of receiving the applications, or about three months from the end of the comment period.
However, how quickly a decision is made on the airport’s application will depend on what issues or concerns are raised during the comment period, he said.
In addition to a permit from the Army Corps, the project also needs a wetlands variance from the state Department of Environmental Protection and a permit from the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.
A public hearing on the wetlands variance was held in November 2009, and natural heritage officials have been to the airport several times to review its management program, said DeWitt.
In addition to the runway buffer zones, the airport project will undertake other safety improvements including the installation of about 6,800 feet of wildlife fencing to prevent deer from getting on the runways and the clearing or trimming of trees and vegetation on airport property, according to DeWitt.
If permitted, work on the $15-to-$16 million project, which will be funded primarily with state and federal grant money, will take place over several years, said DeWitt.
During the first year, the final design will be completed as will the required tree trimming; in the second year, work would be focused on filling and grading for the safety areas as well as relocating lighting systems and navigation; finally, the third year of work would include reconstructing the runways, according to DeWitt.
February 04, 2010
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